OPINION: In the world of sports, what's next?
CHICAGO — Let’s pretend for a second that everything is as usual. It is July 3, a day before the United States celebrates its establishment as a country for the 244th consecutive year. We are in the dead heat of baseball season, a week before the all star break. The NFL preseason is a mere one month away and the NBA finals ended a month ago, with in all likelihood a fourth championship for Lebron James, this time on the Lakers. The NHL had, per usual, an incredible playoffs for the conquest of holding the Stanley Cup for the full year. All is good and exciting to be a sports fan in 2020.
But here we are, in real life. It has been nearly four months since a basketball game took place. I remember physically being at the United Center watching the Blackhawks play and finding out the NBA had suspended their season from the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of coronavirus cases are rising again in states such as Texas, Florida, and California. Much is uncertain.
However, for a sports fan that has not had much to watch outside of a few UFC fights, seeing the case numbers rising again gives me great anxiety. While I know that the MLB and the NBA are starting up at the end of July, who knows if this will really pull its weight through.
And especially, I am worried about the 2020 college football season.
Ohio State AD Gene Smith feels certain about there being college football. In fact, Smith expects there to be fans at games in at least some capacity. But let's look at the reality of the situation here for a second.
Today, according to the CDC, there were 53,301 new cases of coronavirus reported. Unlike the rest of the entire industrialized world, the United States actually has cases rising again! More people are outside and socializing, interacting and defying social distancing guidelines amidst the greatest epidemic in over 100 years. Every day, the idea of having college football becomes a more unjustifiable reality.
What happens if cases are still rising in nearly 40 states by the end of August, when college football is supposed to kick off? Is college football still a reality? I would say far less likely than an NFL game occurring; college football players are not financially compensated for their sport to take on the possible health risk. And fans at those games? If I were an Athletic Director at any school hosting football games, hell no!
What happens if players on the team test positive while the season is underway? Is that it for the season or does everything continue on as usual? What happens if a player contracts the virus and gets so sick that they end up in the hospital? What happens if an older coach like Nick Saban, at 68 years old, contracts the virus? There are so many what-ifs surrounding a college football season this year.
And do I want college football? Oh, more than anything. Getting to live, breathe, eat, sleep buckeye football everyday as an Ohio State student drives every fiber of my being to want to see Ohio State take the field for the 2020 season. But is it worth it if it puts thousands of people at risk of contracting the virus every single week there is a game? Is it worth the risk as a player to be out on the field knowing full well you are not being paid to ensue the risk of a hospital visit from coronavirus? Is it worth the risk as a fan to go to a football game knowing this virus is swimming around in the seas of other fans too?
If every state handled this pandemic like Illinois has, maybe there would be hope at having a safe football season. But since so many states handled the pandemic like Florida, fans across the country should prepare their disappointment for no college football season in the fall.
What is next for sports? We will see professional basketball back soon… in a bubble in Florida. We will see professional baseball finally start up. But with both these sports coming back while the pandemic worsens in the United States, who knows if they will be sustainable. And who knows what holds forward for the MLB moving forward beyond just finishing up this season of just 60 games.
The MLS begins soon too. But after 10 members of Dallas FC’s club tested positive for coronavirus as they entered their little bubble in Orlando, I am not so certain this can hold up.
The uncertainty of the continence of sports at this juncture thickens as the contamination of coronavirus in the United States worsens. I, for one, am actually hopeful. Much of my rhetoric thus far has been less than cheerful, but I am hopeful that sports fans can find some sort of relief out of this.
For one, soccer’s popularity has been on the rise in the United States. European soccer has been going on almost per usual (lack of fans but the quality of the sport remains). As soccer matches are displayed across more television networks, American sports fans can gain some entertainment via sports by watching high-quality European soccer. I’ve even started stanning my team harder; West Ham beat Chelsea 3-2 the other day, a major upset.
As well, American sports fans can reinvest themselves into some sports that have niche fan bases. Golf and NASCAR have begun to come back and while a majority of American sports fans do not watch these two sports, relative to basketball or baseball or football, these are two sports that have found a way to stay relevant during this global pandemic. If you have not watched golf before, it is easily one of the most exciting sports to gamble on. It is slow and lethargic comparatively to other sports, but it is something in the age of no core-four sports.
The National Women’s Soccer League, NWSL for short, has come back. The league has held games with no fans out in Utah where there sits few people to begin with, and thus far, things have gone semi-smoothly. Games are being played and for normal sports fans who do not often watch the NWSL through the season, this is a chance to learn and engage with the league and watch high-quality soccer.
The reality sits that there is a lot of ambiguity to what the future of sports holds moving forward. We know the NBA and MLB and NHL are all coming back, and each has their own, unique plan towards a continuation of action. But we also know that the coronavirus is increasingly getting worse day by day within the United States. The conflict of these two actions will cause some sort of conflict; whether these three sports leagues can continue moving forward through a pandemic is yet to be seen.
The biggest question mark is football and how that will operate. College football is the bigger question mark, as at least the NFL and commissioner Goddell have given some sort of guidance to what the next step may be. The NFL has already cancelled two preseason games and there looks to be in place next some sort of social-distancing of fans at football games this season.
As a college football fan, I worry. And I should be worried. I worry not just about the sport not coming back and being unable to enjoy the one sport I put above all else to watch. I worry about the safety of the players and coaches too. If college football happens this season, and has to shut down after a few weeks due to a few teams having coronavirus ravage their locker room, the NCAA will have bigger issues than cancelling the season right now, or delaying the season for the spring.
Sports coming back sounds so good in theory. For the last 113 days, I have missed seeing the NBA and NHL take shape. I especially miss how shortened the MLB season has become and the lack of April baseball in the windy city.
But as a whole, is it worth it knowing what is at stake?