Through every “hard part” in American history, like 9/11 and World War II, it’s been our favorite sports that have pulled the country through — something to root for.
But the coronavirus, the reason people shouldn’t be in close contact, is the very same reason contact sports can’t be played right now. You have to be within six feet of another sweaty person to make a tackle, make a tag, or play proper defense. The seventh weekend of watching sports from previous years is about to start.
The NFL Draft, which begins tonight on ABC at 8 p.m., provides a respite of live sports action — sorta. Go to NFL.com, and every story on its front page has to do with the draft — and none about the league monitoring virus prevention and flatten-the-curve measures in the 32 cities it plays in. The season starts in September, which feels like years from now in a quarantine life, so there is time to study and decide.
It’s the same for college football, which starts a week before the NFL, and school athletic directors and conference leaders have reportedly come up with scenarios for the season, including part of the season played in the spring. A common theme is if it’s not safe enough for students to return to school or attend games, athletes can’t be asked to return either. But lacking the millions of dollars from football, all college sports are in peril.
Sports that were in season halted on March 11 and 12, like the NBA and NHL and MLS, made intentions of restarting and playing postseasons, and soon after those leagues gave educated guesses on when they’d resume — June, maybe July. And nothing’s been said since.
The 2020 NBA playoffs would normally be under way now. The league’s conversations center on how to resume the season, not whether to cancel it. Each time Commissioner Adam Silver has addressed the subject it’s that teams, players and league brass can’t control what comes next — the virus controls it.
“We don’t have a good enough understanding of what the standards are that we need to meet in order to move forward. The experts don’t necessarily either,” he said. “We are not in a position to make any decisions and it’s unclear when we will be.”
NASCAR, which has featured live virtual ‘iRacing’, has talked a lot about a late May restart with empty stands. Professional tennis, another sport where social distancing could work on the court, has eyed the same sort of return.
The PGA Tour has gone as far as issuing a revised schedule with a return to play in Fort Worth, Texas on June 11, and playing its first four tournaments without galleries and spreading out the hundreds of people needed to put on a pro golf tournament over the hundreds of acres on a golf course. A report from Wednesday said that a made-for-TV match pitting Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning versus Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady would air on Turner Sports in May — check your local listings.
The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo has become the 2021 Olympics.
The common conclusion is this: It’s critical to schedule optimistically and put restart scenarios in place, but they are low-certainty plans without a green light from local leaders, medical experts and the players involved. And it’s tied to drastic testing ramp-ups or a sudden vaccine or treatment breakthrough.