NWSL is making moves to take the league through a structured reopening leading up to a proposed summer tournament in Utah. First, they allowed individual players to practice using team facilities. Now, they’ve moved to allow small group training as part of “Phase Two” in their “Return to Play Phased Protocol.” This protocol’s guidelines have been developed by the NWSL Medical Task Force, which is comprised of a team doctor from each of the nine teams and commissioner Lisa Baird.
The small group training protocol allows up to eight players to use weight rooms, training rooms, and meeting rooms, but only after a test for both COVID-19 and antibodies as well as a daily symptom screening and temperature check. This protocol is also subject to state guidelines, meaning some teams will be able to officially move into phase two faster than others. For example, Washington state will allow small groups to begin gathering in indoor fitness facilities in Phase 2 of their Safe Start Plan, but as of the publication of this article, the state was in Phase 1, with only some counties authorized to move to Phase 2 — Pierce County, which contains Tacoma, is not among the Phase 2 counties so far and is not eligible to apply for a move to Phase 2 because they have not had less than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14 day span.
We’ve collected each state’s opening status as of the morning of May 26 so you can see where your team might be. We’ve included a brief summary and a link to the state COVID-19 site from which we pulled the info, where you can find more details on their exact policies.
Team: Chicago Red Stars
Current status: Cook County is in “Phase 2”: face coverings are required where social distancing is not possible, no nonessential gatherings, nonessential travel discouraged, nonessential employees required to WFH, some distance-friendly outdoor recreation such as walking, golfing, and fishing permitted
Team: Houston Dash
Current status: With approval of the Texas Department of State Health Services, pro sports leagues can play both indoor and outdoor events under restrictions such as screening before entering the venue, wearing face masks while on the bench, and regular disinfection of frequently touched surfaces
Team: North Carolina Courage
State: North Carolina
Current status: NC is in “Phase 2”: limited indoor and outdoor gatherings are allowed, large venues and stadiums may open with restrictions such as social distancing and required daily symptom screenings; face coverings are “strongly recommended” for employees and fans
Team: OL Reign
Current status: Pierce County is in “Phase 1”: individual outdoor recreation and some staffed outdoor facilities may open under restrictions with social distancing, employer provided PPE, and screenings before shifts. “Fitness” is specifically included in Phase 2, which would allow small group fitness sessions in groups of 5 or less at training facilities.
Team: Orlando Pride
Current status: Florida is in “Phase 1”: sporting venues may operate without spectators, gyms may open with sanitation procedures, socially distant small groups allowed, face masks are not required for businesses.
Team: Portland Thorns
Current status: Multnomah County has not applied for Phase 1 reopening: Phase 1 allows some outdoor recreation, social gatherings under 10 people with physical distancing, limited gym openings. Gym classes are encouraged to be moved outdoors with physical distancing and contact sports that involve coming into bodily contact or close quarters less than six feet apart will still be prohibited.
Team: Sky Blue FC
State: New Jersey
Current status: NJ is in “Stage 1”: some nonessential work at physical locations is allowed under certain safeguarding guidelines. Governor Murphy said Tuesday, May 26 that pro sports teams may return to training and competition if their leagues allow.
Team: Utah Royals
Current status: Most of Utah is in a “low risk phase” while some parts including Salt Lake City are “moderate risk phase.” Sporting events, including concession stands, are allowed under restrictions such as social distancing and symptom checks. Gyms may open under distancing and cleaning guidelines; sporting activities requiring players be closer than 10 feet are prohibited, but socially distant skills and conditioning are allowed.
Team: Washington Spirit
Current status: Maryland is mostly in “Stage 1” although Baltimore and the counties around Washington, D.C. are still closed. Public outdoor sports fields are allowed to open with restrictions after consultation with county health officer, sporting gatherings over 10 people are not allowed, fitness centers are closed, and the Maryland SoccerPlex is closed until at least June 1.
As reported by The Athletic, NWSL’s current proposed start date is June 29 and would run through July 28, with approval already obtained from Utah state officials. NWSL’s press release stated that teams may progress to Phase Three starting May 30, just five days after the start of Phase Two. Phase Three allows for full team training if five days of small group training have been completed. That would mean teams that start as soon as possible would have roughly a month to get into some kind of game shape, which is not that terrible given the league’s preseason began March 9, and the regular schedule would have started April 18. That, of course, assumes everything going according to plan and every team getting the maximum time to train, including however they travel to Utah, given the risks associated with flying at the moment, dirt cheap ticket prices notwithstanding.
Should the tournament take place, hopefully NWSL will have strong protocols and oversight in place to ensure player and staff safety. In a totally optimistic world, this could be a best practices example for resuming sporting events, and hopefully by mid-to-late June, NWSL markets will all be in better positions with respects to re-opening. But there are a lot of questions that make it a little tough to take the optimistic view, not least of which is the labor issue of any employees who wish to opt out or simply cannot afford to take a risk, however small. Fingers crossed for a best-case scenario, not just with no illnesses, but no injuries from a compressed preseason either.