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Sports Then and Now

Intersection of Sports and Public Health Derails the Sports World

Posted on March 12, 2020 by Dean Hybl

Less than 24 hours after the World Health Organization declared the spread of the coronavirus to be a pandemic the sports world is coming to a screeching halt as sports leagues and college conferences struggle to deal with this intersection between public health and the sports world.

It started Wednesday afternoon with the NCAA announcing that all of their upcoming championships would be played without fans.

With most of the premier Division I conferences having started their men’s basketball tournaments earlier this week, it didn’t take long until they all announced that they would not admit fans starting on Thursday.

However, after a Wednesday evening address by the President as well as continued uncertainty on how best to address the growing crisis, by soon before game time on Thursday most conferences, including the ACC, Big Ten and SEC had all canceled the remainder of their tournaments. The Big East tipped off their first game on Thursday (Creighton against St. Johns), but the game and tournament were later canceled.

 So, what is typically one of the most exciting weekends for college basketball now looks to be an opportunity to catch up on shows from Netflix or Amazon Prime.

College basketball is not the only major sports group impacted by the growing crisis.

After two members of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the virus the game Wednesday night between the Oklahoma Thunder and Utah Jazz was postponed and the NBA later announced an immediate suspension of their season.

In addition, the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), ITF (International Tennis Federation) and MLS (Major League Soccer) all announced postponements.

One of the most prestigious non-major tournaments in the PGA (Professional Golf Association) season, the Players Championship, began Thursday in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, but no fans were allowed on the course.

After this initial set of cancellations, you can expect that there will be more coming in the coming days and weeks as a clearer picture emerges regarding the spread of the virus and extent of precautions being taken across the country.

Many colleges and universities have announced that students will begin remote classes after spring break with some not expecting students to return to campus at all this semester. The Ivy League has already canceled all spring sports.

Though the NCAA was the first to announce any preventive measures when they announced their basketball and hockey championships would be played without fans, those tournaments still are a few days away, so after the cancellations of conference championships it would not be a major surprise if the NCAA basketball and hockey tournaments are eventually cancelled.

With the start of the Major League Baseball season just two weeks away, there is also a good chance that there will be a delay to the baseball season. A better clarity on that will probably emerge in the coming days based on whether MLB teams training in Florida and Arizona continue their spring training games or if they send the players home.

With the state of California banning gatherings with over 250 people and Seattle seeming to be one of the hot beds for the virus in the United States, it could be quite a while before games are able to be played in those areas.

Sports and world events have occasionally clashed in the past, but the magnitude of the impact that this pandemic appears to be having is certainly historic.

Though the attacks on September 11, 2001 stopped the sports world for about a week, it didn’t take long before things were back up and going. Even during World War II, while many tournaments such as Wimbledon were canceled, in the United States professional sports continued throughout the war.

Because of the money and glamor associated with sports in today’s world, there often seems to be a noticeable barrier between the sports world and the day-to-day reality most of us live in. In some respects, that is one of the attractions to sports as it provides entertainment and an escape.

However, it is situations like this when we are reminded that the barriers between the “real world” and “sports world” really are not so great.

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