Sports News Analysis: One Month Without Sports: A Look Back and A Look Forward

Looking Back:

March 11, 2020: a day that will live in sports infamy.

As the NBA and NHL regular seasons were coming down the final stretch, NCAA men’s and women’s college basketball teams were playing in their conference tournaments and the big dance was approaching; the MLB was beginning to wind down spring training with opening day set for March 26, and NCAA baseball, softball, golf, etc. were just getting their spring seasons underway, as the sports world then came to a full standstill during the next couple days.

On Wednesday, March 11, college basketball conference tournaments took place all day across the country. In Arizona and Florida, MLB spring training games were being played, and as the evening began, the NHL and NBA took the stage as well, but that day was the last normalcy sports has had since.

On the same day that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, it hit the sports world as at 9:27 p.m. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus, and just four minutes later, the NBA went ahead and suspended the season “until further notice.” That sequence played out on live TV as the Jazz

and Oklahoma City Thunder were getting ready to get underway until and the game was postponed minutes prior to tipoff.

That was just the start, as the next morning at 10:49 a.m., ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported another Jazz player, Donovan Mitchell, tested positive for the coronavirus.

Then at 11:45 a.m., college basketball began to feel the effects as the Big Ten cancelled the remainder of its tournament and all other conferences began to follow suit and by 1:10 p.m. at least eight other conferences had cancelled their tournaments.

At 1:36 p.m., the NHL suspended its season effective March 12 and announced it planned to resume “as soon as it is appropriate and prudent.”

By 2:30 p.m., it was affecting the NFL offseason as the league canceled its league meeting scheduled for March 29 in Florida.

At 3:10 p.m., the MLB canceled spring training games effective at 4 p.m. Thursday and pushed back the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks.

Just over an hour later, the NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. By the end of the day, other leagues such as the PGA, XFL and WWE halted their events as well.

On March 15, the Centers for Disease Control recommended to cancel or postpone events of 50 or more people for eight weeks. After that, ESPN’s Wojnarowski reported that NBA owners and executives think a best-case scenario for resuming the season is returning to play in mid-to-late June with no fans.

By March 19, the NFL draft was to just be televised, the Kentucky Derby was postponed, four Brooklyn Nets had tested positive—including star Kevin Durant—and New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton tested positive. On March 23, International Olympic Committee member

Dick Pound told USA Today that the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were going to be postponed and rescheduled for 2021.

March 25 saw big news from the NFL as Commissioner Roger Goodell announced NFL Management Council Executive Committee discussed draft-related topics and emerged “unanimous and unequivocal that the draft should go forward as scheduled” from Thursday, April 23 through Saturday, April 25, but fully virtually.

Adjusting to a New Normal:

Living in a new normal without sports is big, because humans turn to sports for unity, comfort and relief during times of disasters and tragedy. Think of when sports resumed after the Boston Marathon Bombing and how much that city came together because of sports and the voices within it, like when David Ortiz took the microphone moments before first pitch of that first game back and said, “This is our —– city.” That moment was huge for Boston in its recovery from tragedy. Another example was when the New York Mets took the field again after 9/11 and Mike Piazza jacked a home run that put the Mets up 3-2 and the crowd went wild and that moment helped, maybe just a little, but nonetheless helped New York during its healing process.

In the grand scheme of things, sports are a microcosm of life; the leagues are trying their hardest to do something during this time to just bring entertainment to fans that are stuck at home as most of the country remains on ‘stay at home orders.’

The league that was onto this first was, of all leagues NASCAR, as it began using a very realistic game simulator, iRacing, to bring its fans together as its broadcast partner Fox Sports began to broadcast iRacing each Sunday to help replace the canceled races with a lot of its drivers. This concept has particularly been good because NASCAR was getting positive ratings, and the races

were then broadcast on Fox instead of Fox Sports One. Though not very ideal, this has been a positive thing in the sports world.

Other leagues began to follow suit down to its individual team’s as the NHL’s Washington Capitals and broadcast partner NBC Sports Washington began broadcasting one-hour simulation games broadcast on the day of the originally scheduled game with the teams TV broadcasters calling the action from EA Sports’ NHL 20 game.

Though things are not all great—as the NBA and ESPN partnered to broadcast NBA 2K tournaments and games of ‘HORSE” with players from the league, and those have not come back with great fan response.

Looking Forward:

As of April 15, there is no end in sight. The only thing sports fans get to look forward to is the aforementioned fully virtually NFL Draft set to take place Thursday, April- Saturday, April 25.

As the NBA, NHL and MLB seasons remain on pause as the United States continues to try and curb the coronavirus outbreak, below are the best-case scenarios for the leagues to return, according to Forbes.

MLB:

“According to various reports, as Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are hopeful that they will resume spring training at some point in late May and begin to play games as early as June.”

NHL:

“The NHL remains steadfast in its commitment to resume the season at some point and in the wake of the decision to postpone the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the “powers that be” see an opportunity now that there is a void in live sports programming during that time to finish out the

season and then finish out the playoffs in the Fall. The league remains resolute in its determination to play a full 82-game season in 2020-21 but it’s anyone’s guess as to when that will eventually start.” With the hope to return in July.

NBA:

“Adam Silver was the first commissioner to opt for what some may have considered the “nuclear option” by indefinitely postponing the season. While Silver and Co. are keeping their collective cards close to the chest on this one, but the rumored goal is be able to finish The Finals by Labor Day Weekend, which would require a July 1st re-start date at the latest.”

In the Meantime:

To wrap up, as these leagues and teams continue to come up with innovative content to keep their fans entertained during this time of uncertainty across America and the world, people need to remember to stay home, social distance and self-monitor.

When sports return, everything might not return to normal, the games may just be played with essential personnel at the venue, but that is not something that can be said right now, so people just need to continue to have patience.

NBC Sports published a video on Easter Sunday titled “Doc’s Dream: Doc Emrick Awaits Return of Sports, NHL Hockey” that is a must watch for sports fans as the NHL Broadcaster dreams of the day sports can return, maybe not in the way everyone envisioned at first, but them returning nonetheless will be a big step in returning to normalcy in this country and across the world.

Spencer DuPuis can be contacted at [email protected]