Gov. Doug Ducey

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about updates to coronavirus restrictions May 12 during a news conference at the Arizona Commerce Authority conference center in Phoenix.

Arizona is open for pro sports, starting Saturday. But does that even matter?

On Tuesday, Gov. Doug Ducey welcomed pro sports, including the NBA, MLB and NHL, to play games in his state without fans, beginning Saturday. In doing so, he became the first governor in the United States to make such a proclamation.

Why now?

As of Wednesday, none of the aforementioned major sports leagues had made any announcements or official decisions about returning to play. The NBA, MLB and NHL are on an indefinite hiatus as each league discusses potential options for resuming their seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

I want sports to return as badly as the next person, but I don’t understand jumping the gun. Ducey initially proceeded with caution during this public health crisis. His stay-at-home order that was scheduled to expire April 30 was extended to May 15.

A swarm of criticism from fellow Republican lawmakers at the state Legislature about being too slow to open up the economy apparently scared him into reversing course.

While unemployment is rampant and the economy is suffering, Republicans have made this about politics. They see immediately opening up businesses and easing restrictions as a political win for them, even if data suggests it endangers public health to come roaring back.

Many restaurants and businesses were allowed to open Monday, with restrictions. And Ducey said the stay-at-home order will expire Friday instead of being extended again.

What does Ducey or Arizona stand to gain from announcing an opening to sports before anyone else? On Wednesday, a day after Ducey’s announcement, Florida’s Ron DeSantis became the second governor to do it.

If and when MLB starts its 2020 season, there will be a period of spring training, probably two to three weeks. However, it’s unclear where spring training will actually take place.

Arizona’s Cactus League is home to 15 MLB teams, but it’s possible those teams will train at their home ballparks instead of returning to Arizona.

Regardless of how it plays out, spring training is unlikely to resume before June 1. Making a public statement May 12 about how Arizona will be open for pro sports May 16 doesn’t make much sense.

And Ducey didn’t elaborate on why he was doing so, other than to say it can be done safely, as long as there are no fans in attendance and everyone follows Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

There was a proposal to have the MLB season play out entirely in Arizona, with all teams playing games at Valley stadiums, mostly Chase Field and spring training ballparks. That would allow players to avoid mass travel and for them to quarantine when not going to and from the ballpark.

But that proposal didn’t gain significant traction, with several players saying they didn’t want to be away from their families for multiple months.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 440 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, up from 356 a day earlier. The number of new deaths reported was 32, up from 20 the previous day.

The total number of cases in Arizona rose to 12,176, with 594 deaths.

Ducey said he’s looking at a declining number in the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive as his main guidance. But that can largely be attributed to how the testing landscape has changed.

Early on, only people exhibiting severe symptoms of coronavirus were supposed to get tests, due to a massive shortage in available tests. With an increase in the amount of testing available, people who are asymptomatic, and therefore less likely to be infected, can also get tested.

Florida has already held WWE and UFC events without fans. As long as it can be done safely, I’m for it. UFC 249, held Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida, provided a good blueprint for how it can be done.

Ducey, however, hasn’t offered any compelling reason why pro sports will be open for business in Arizona, starting Saturday. If he had spoken to UFC president Dana White about holding an event in Arizona in the next week or two, that would be one thing.

Sports should come back when it’s safe to come back. The NBA, MLB and NHL have not made those determinations yet.

In the meantime, can we watch the Diamondbacks play the Coyotes? That would be fun. We just need to determine if that happens on the diamond or the ice.

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Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.

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