COVID-19 Pandemic Shuts Down Sports Leagues

Brett Abrams, Sports Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting virtually everyone in the country, and the world of sports is not immune.

Sports are some of the most essential forms of entertainment, deeply woven into the fabric of the national culture. Sports give us time to be with loved ones and celebrate victory, time to gripe about defeat and, most importantly, time to escape from reality.

One of the most popular sports leagues affected by the outbreak is the National Basketball Association or NBA. The NBA was nearing the end of the regular season; important games were on the schedule and fans were getting a first look at what the playoff bracket would look like.

On March 11, Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert became the first professional athlete in North America to reveal that he tested positive for COVID-19. Not only did his teammate Donovan Mitchell also test positive, but multiple players around the league, such as all-pro forward and Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, quickly began testing positive for the virus. Shortly after the first few players began to test positive, NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspended the 2019-20 NBA season indefinitely.

Since March 11, no NBA games have been played, no teams have held practices and no players have traveled with their team.

Many people have been speculating that the NBA season could resume during the summer, in December or possibly be completely cancelled. Although a cancellation is a possibility, it is highly likely that the NBA season will be resumed, despite any delays on the 2020-21 season. Hall of Fame player and announcer Charles Barkley said that Silver should cancel the 2019-20 season saying, “It’s too dangerous, it’s not safe, I don’t know how they can make it safe.”

Like professional basketball, college basketball is also heavily impacted by Coronavirus. The college basketball season was coming to a close as teams prepared for the highly anticipated March Madness tournament. March Madness is a single-elimination championship series between 68 of the best NCAA Division I men’s college basketball teams in the country. Traditionally, millions of viewers tune in throughout the month of March to watch their favorite schools compete to be crowned the best team in college basketball, while millions of others participate in gambling pools and try to predict the winners of each game.

Due to the impacts of the virus, the March Madness tournament was completely cancelled, and the NCAA decided not to grant seniors an extra year of eligibility. Many NBA Draft prospects are underclassmen rather than seniors, meaning this was the last chance for the 2020 senior class to compete at a high level. Professional basketball players such as New Orleans Pelicans forward Josh Hart have used social media to voice their disapproval of the NCAA’s decision.

Another sport severely impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak is Major League Baseball (MLB), which halted spring training in March.

Recently, MLB abandoned discussions about a possible “Arizona Plan” in which all 30 teams would play all games in Arizona, where most teams hold spring training. League officials are now looking at realigning teams into three geographic divisions and playing games in empty stadiums. Everything hinges on the national decision to relax stay at home orders.

Pali junior Adam Amster, is relieved the “Arizona Plan” was called off, saying, “We don’t need baseball hunger games.”

Although baseball is heavily impacted by the virus, it seems that basketball has to overcome greater challenges because the NBA was “nearing the end of the season and playoffs while baseball was just about to start,” according to Pali junior Mike Eberlein.

One major sport league that may end up being the least affected by the virus is the National Football League (NFL). The conclusion of the 2019-20 season took place in early February, when the Kansas City Chiefs won Superbowl LIV.

The NFL Combine, where draft-eligible players perform a series of drills for team officials, wrapped up mere days before the massive surge in coronavirus cases in the United States. The free agency frenzy was also virtually unaffected.

The 2020 NFL Draft was held online for the first time in league history, and, with commissioner Roger Goodell, hosting the event from the basement of his home in New York, everything went smoothly. Nonetheless, this shift had an economic impact on Las Vegas, where the event was supposed to take place. Last year, more than half a million fans came to Nashville to watch the 2019 Draft class meet the commissioner.

As for the start time of the 2020-21 NFL season, no changes have been made. Rookie Mini Camps, organized team activities and other summer programs have been switched to an online platform. Goodell and many NFL executives say they do not plan to change the start date anytime soon but will take the proper precautions when necessary. The Los Angeles Rams are scheduled to open the season against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. 13, at SoFi Stadium, the team’s new $4.9 billion home in Inglewood.

One of the biggest setbacks to national sports leagues starting or restarting during the pandemic is the potential of the absence of fans at games. Although the games would be televised, the players would be competing in empty stadiums with no fans to cheer them on. The void would be deafening.

Many athletes and fans alike have voiced their opinions about the potential of having games staged in empty stadiums. Many also believe that restarting leagues is not a top priority. According to Amster, “Safety to the players is priority, and they shouldn’t play if unsafe.”

Other fans such as Eberlein believe leagues should resume without fans in due time. Despite the fact that there would be no fans to cheer on the players in person, saying “it would be a good form of entertainment while we are stuck at home.”