On the evening of March 11, 2020, the President of the United States addressed the nation and announced that the coronavirus had been classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic — a new disease that has no known immunity and is spreading throughout the world at an alarming rate.
The day before this announcement, the Ivy League had already announced the cancellation of the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
Immediately after the President’s announcement, the rest of the sports world followed the example of the Ivy League, and the dominoes in the world of sports began to fall, one by one.
The next day, just several hours before the pandemic was formally acknowledged, the NCAA limited attendance for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments to essential staff and family members.
Later, within 30 minutes after the President’s address, the National Basketball Association suspended its season until further notice. It’s probably no coincidence that literally minutes before the NBA’s announcement, a player for the Utah Jazz was reported to have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Then, on March 12, the bottom fell out in the world of sports. Professional tennis stopped all tournaments at least through April 20. Another player for the Utah Jazz had tested positive. Major League Soccer suspended games for 30 days.
One conference after another announced the cancellation of their respective basketball tournaments; referees literally “took the ball and went home” for several games that were actually being contested at the time.
The National Hockey League suspended its season with plans to resume “as soon as it is appropriate and prudent.” The National Football League cancelled their annual spring meeting.
Major League Baseball cancelled the remainder of spring training games and delayed the start of the season by at least two weeks. The NCAA cancelled all winter and spring championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball championships, giving new meaning to “March Madness.”
The McDonald’s All-American games were cancelled, providing a glimmer of hope that these annual “auditions for the NBA” might convince some of this year’s future one-and-done players to stick around for more than one season.
Surprisingly, the WWE announced it was moving SmackDown from Detroit to its training facility in Orlando; I say “surprisingly” because I didn’t know the WWE was still around. Surprisingly, the XFL announced there would be no more regular season games; “surprisingly” because I didn’t know the XFL was still around, either.
There were some announcements from the soccer world, but I know nothing about soccer and therefore all of it was pretty foreign to me, as was the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix by Formula 1.
All of the postponements and cancellations demonstrated that once the dust finally settled, cooler heads had prevailed throughout the entire sporting world.
The only game still in town was professional golf, where the players were still battling it out in the first round of The Players Championship, one of the elite tournaments on the PGA tour and one that awards the winner a cool $2.7 million.
Initially the PGA announced that effective with the second round the following day, only essential personnel would be allowed on the course. Some of the golfers were asked what it would be like playing a round of golf without a gallery (the fans).
One, whom I won’t mention by name because what he said isn’t befitting a winner of four major championships, answered with a comment about not having all of the extra pairs of eyes to help find the ball after errant shots. It was comforting to learn that his priorities were in order (sarcasm font). He stopped just short of saying he would miss having a “human backboard” to keep errant shots from straying too far away from the fairways and greens, but I’m guessing he was probably thinking it.
It’s no coincidence that shortly after his comments were aired, the PGA Tour Commissioner cancelled the remainder of the tournament along with the tournaments scheduled for the following three weeks. It’s also probably no coincidence that the Tour will return just in time for the Masters. (The following day the chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, site of the Masters announced the tournament would be postponed due to the pandemic, demonstrating he had his feet closer to the ground than the Commissioner.)
Meanwhile, the talking heads on ESPN spent the day critiquing the tough decisions made in the sporting world, agreeing for the most part, but with some made jabs at some of the decisions that, in their opinion, should have been made sooner. It was probably just me, but I couldn’t help imagining tiny thought balloons over most of their heads with “Woe is me!” written inside.
It makes me wonder what ESPN will find to broadcast in the days ahead. Before ESPN became a household name, the fledgling network made its living televising rodeos, bowling tournaments and a couple of shows featuring highlights in the world of sports. ESPN’s immediate future may be worse.
There was also some commentary about the likelihood that a champion would never be determined in the various sports impacted by the coronavirus.
Out of respect for those losing their lives to the pandemic, it was not appropriate to name a champion.
That’s what should be written in the record books.
(Scott Ludwig is a guest columnist for the Newnan Times-Herald).