Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
As fields, arenas and stadiums sit vacant and silent, the desire for sports to return far exceeds the capacity among those who oversee them to determine when they will. Assessing probability is futile, but public health leaders indicate that fans and leagues should prepare for sports to remain absent not just for the coming months but into next year.
The novel coronavirus pandemic already has canceled or postponed the NCAA tournament, the Olympics and Wimbledon. It has jeopardized the NBA playoffs, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Masters and the baseball and soccer seasons. It is possible the rest of the 2020 sports calendar, including college football and the NFL, also will be lost, according to interviews with and public comments from more than a dozen sports leaders and public health experts. Most stressed the uncertainty in such a fluid situation.
Sports bodies at the professional and collegiate levels have planned for a range of contingencies that include playing in empty stadiums and canceling seasons altogether, and they are bracing for the impact of the worst of them. They are driven by both business and altruistic motivations, eager to salvage financial losses and to provide diversion to the public.
Athletes who have trained for the 2020 Olympics in Japan are focusing on what’s ahead after the coronavirus pandemic forced the Games to be postponed. President Trump held a conference call Saturday with 13 commissioners and leaders from major American sports. At a news conference later in the day, he reiterated his desire to “open our country” and said sports leagues want to return soon.
Asked specifically about opening stadiums and arenas to fans by August, Trump said he could not commit to a date. (We are all aware of Trump’s endless lies and desire to make himself look good, while blaming others.)
Earlier Saturday, reporters asked California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) at a news conference whether he expected major sporting events with fans in stadiums by August or September. “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state,” he replied.
Disease experts suggest that the possibility feared most in the sports world — no major events for the rest of the year — may be more real than many believe and that putting a timeline on their return is not yet feasible.
“My crystal ball is not just cloudy,” Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, said this week. “It’s black.”
When Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and part of the White House’s coronavirus task force, was asked this week about people looking forward to baseball games and concerts this summer, he did not answer directly. He said the only way to stop the virus is a vaccine, which experts expect will not be ready before early 2021.
The yearning among fans for sports’ reappearance collides with reality. The U.S. Tennis Association said this week that it still plans to stage the U.S. Open as scheduled from late August through mid-September in New York. The site of the tournament, Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, is being converted to a temporary hospital.
The leaders of the NFL, after its medical director addressed team owners Tuesday, expressed confidence its season would begin as scheduled, without conditions. But days earlier, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, a bellwether for the sport, said in a radio interview that he would be “shocked” if any NFL or college football was played this fall.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told the Mercury News this week that the conference has reviewed multiple models for how the college football season could unfold. In the most optimistic, training camp will be standard and the season will start on time.
“The most pessimistic,” Scott said, “has no season at all.”