And what of amateurs? On March 12, the NCAA canceled all forms of competition through its winter AND summer seasons. Exactly three months ahead of time, the College World Series in Omaha was scrubbed. The college sports calendar is barren through July. We've all kind of assumed that college football, which doesn't play games until Labor Day, would be semi-good to go, but can we assume anything at this fraught moment?
As we speak, almost every college is closed. Classes have gone online. Graduation ceremonies have been canceled. Let’s say schools decide to remain shuttered through August. Would players be allowed to return in July to practice? (Answer: surely not.) Would players be asked to show up the week before Labor Day and then play immediately? (Answer: same again.) Would schools be willing to open stadium gates to teeming throngs on autumnal Saturdays If no cure for COVID-19 has been found?
What we’re waging now is a holding action. This flattening of the curve is intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Alas, curve-flattening isn’t a cure. The hope is that the number of new cases begins to decline. (A snippet of good news: With social distancing, it usually does.) A decline, however, is not an eradication.
We tend to look to Asia as evidence that the coronavirus can be brought under something approximating control. But check the state of Asian sports. From The Wall Street Journal: "South Korea's basketball league was suspended on Feb. 29 and canceled last week, while Japan played a weekend of basketball games without spectators before deciding to cancel. The Chinese Basketball Association went dark in January and still hasn't returned."
(Also: The Japanese baseball season has been delayed.)
The two biggest global sporting events scheduled for summer/fall — the Tokyo Olympics and soccer’s Euro 2020 — have been postponed until 2021. None of our major professional sports has any clear notion as to when suspended seasons might be resumed, or how they’ll look if they do. As LeBron James said last week on the Road Trippin’ Podcast: “So what happens when a guy who is tested positive for corona and you're out there on the floor with him and it's a loose ball?”
At the same time, James didn't seem to support an empty-arena NBA: "What is the word 'sport' without 'fan'? There's no excitement. There's no crying. There's no joy."
Before anything in this country can move forward, we must have a handle on COVID-19. We’re trying, but we’re not yet there. We mightn’t be for months. In the grand scheme of life as we now know it, sports are a trifle — a non-essential, to invoke the argot. I doubt we’ll see the non-essential NBA again this year. I’m unsure if there’s a way for MLB to go forward.
As for autumn sports … well, this was ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN Radio last week: "I'll be shocked if we have NFL football this fall, if we have college football … Just because from what I understand, people that I listen to, you're 12 to 18 months from a vaccine. I don't know how you let these guys go into locker rooms and let stadiums be filled up and how you can play ball."
I understand this isn't what anybody wants to hear. It's not what I want to write. (To reiterate: I'm a sportswriter.) But maybe it's what we need to hear. As much as we want to know how soon our games will be returning, the correct answer might be, "Not soon at all." And now, having darkened everyone's day, I'm off to think happier thoughts. Assuming I can locate one.