Image credit: (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)
Whenever tragedy strikes, there’s always a question that arises about whether sports should go on.
For a few days, sports are insignificant and inconsequential.
But before long, sports return and we are all happy to have the distraction. In a world where there’s always a lot to worry about, sports are a wonderful way to forget everything else for a few hours.
It was true during the first Persian Gulf war, when Whitney Houston’s National Anthem put many in a patriotic fervor before the Super Bowl. It was even true during World War II when baseball played on, even if the quality of players may have dipped dramatically.
Sports can remind us of how we are part of a bigger community, and that community becomes even more important when everyone is shaken from their foundations. But that doesn’t work when the mere fact of gathering among your fellow fans puts people at risk.
Sports are a common language for so many of us. It’s something that is consistent and comforting. Watching three generations of Cubs fans celebrate together when the team finally ended its World Series drought could make you smile even if you have no affection for the North Siders. In many families, the language of sports (Dad, who do you think should be our fifth starter?) helps spackle the cracks that can arise between fathers and mothers and sons and daughters.
That’s why this crazy week is leaving so many of us disconnected. The week began with the rumble of the novel coronavirus humming along in the background for many people around the country. It will end with the country semi-quarantined, fearing how bad the coronavirus’ spread may become.
And this time, we will not have sports to serve as our comfort food. A college, minor league or MLB game can be a strawberry milkshake at the end of a rough day.
Now for understandable reasons, we will not have that. And for a lot of us, that will leave us wondering where to find our milkshake.
But we fans and others who are around the sport have it easy compared to the coaches and players. There are athletes who have dreamed of the day they could play in Omaha who found out today that they are no longer playing for a spot in the College World Series. By the time the next College World Series is played in June 2021, some of them will be well into their post-college careers. There are also likely some coaches who coached their last games without ever getting a chance to take one last look around the field before walking away.
This week was the week of awful but unavoidable decisions. No one in the NCAA wanted to wipe away the seasons of countless athletes, but they felt they had no choice. MLB clearly did not want to shut down spring training and postpone the season, but finally felt it had no choice.
Now comes the clean-up. The NCAA will have to figure out whether to grant extra eligibility to thousands of athletes whose seasons (and careers) are potentially ended unexpectedly. If they do grant extra eligibility, they then have to figure out how to make scholarship limits work when teams have understandably planned to replace the departing seniors with a new wave of incoming freshmen.
MLB has to not only determine how long to shut down its season, but it also has to decide whether to play a shorter season, extend the finish of the season or both. For many MiLB teams, the difference between a successful season financially and a money-loser is better-than-normal weather or a rough season of rainouts. This year, every team will be starting behind on their budgets.
For MiLB players, their budgets are potentially blown. MiLB players do not get paid during spring training. They are only paid during the season. Now with the season being pushed back, paychecks that were supposed to arrive in early April all of a sudden will no longer receive those checks. And that doesn’t begin to cover the many gameday employees who only get paid if their are games to work.
The Olympic qualifiers? Delayed. The big question now is whether there will be an Olympics to qualify for.
And then we get to the draft. This was the year that the MLB draft was moving to Omaha, to be tied in with the College World Series. Now, the CWS has been cancelled. And what was shaping up to be an exceptional draft class now will be remembered as the craziest draft of all time.
When will it be held? Great question. How will teams scout for it? We’ll get back to you. This is the possibility no one was really prepared to handle.
Eventually sports and normalcy will return. The difficult decisions have been made. The tough questions will eventually all be answered. Hopefully we will all be healthy and happy to greet its re-emergence. But for now, we all are going to have to figure out how to handle the longest sport-less stretch of our lives.