Written by Jay Bhati
COVID-19 has affected almost every aspect of our everyday lives. Sports are a huge aspect of life that the coronavirus has taken away from people. Usually during hard times, sports offer a refuge by taking our minds off reality. Sports are a way for us to escape and dive into a world that matters only for the duration of the competition. We must face reality once the game ends. Quarantine affected two important aspects of sports for me.
First, I was saddened that seniors were not able to play a final season. Another aspect of sports made worse by the pandemic was a lack of excitement that came with watching reruns of old games. At first it was enjoyable, but slowly I found myself thoroughly disappointed, as the outcome of the game had already been decided. There was no excitement or thrill. However, everything changed when Dana White and the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) organization decided to hold fights on Fight Island: a private island in Abu Dhabi that attempted to evade the coronavirus. As stated by UFC COO Lawrence Epstein, Fight island “is going to be the tightest bubble that you could sort of ever produce.” (Raimondi 3)
Finally, live sports were back. I cannot explain the thrill that overcame thousands of people across the world as the bells rang and fights were on. I had friends who abhorred the sport of fighting tune in. The first fight aired, and for a while, it seemed as though all was okay in the world. Life was getting back on track. Obviously, I was very wrong, but other sports looked at what the UFC did and attempted to follow a similar model.
Baseball was the next sport to attempt a comeback during the pandemic. Unfortunately, they were less successful than the UFC. Baseball attempted to have teams practice and reside in their respective states as usual. However, the team would travel when playing an away game. It was not easy, and there were growing pains. There were teams that had close to full locker rooms test positive for the virus. Although mistakes were made, the MLB (Major League Baseball) learned along with the rest of the major sporting industries.
The NBA (National Basketball Association) saw the mistakes the MLB made and decided a full bubble would be necessary for games. A full bubble meant that all personnel would be zoned off from the outside. It’s a tall task to ask of players, as this means they would be unable to interact with their families for weeks on end. All their food will be provided inside the bubble. Any free time a player had would be spent within the confines of the bubble. The NBA did not suffer nearly as much as the MLB did. The bubble method proved to work. However, the bubble may not have been feasible for the MLB. A baseball field is much larger than an NBA court, which may have led to the reason why the MLB rejected the bubble idea, even though it may have been the safest way. The NFL also followed the MLB and attempted to have teams play in their respective cities. However, the NFL had the luxury of experience, more than both the MLB and the NBA, due to their season being the last and shortest of all major sports seasons.
High school sports began with the fall seasons. It was a difficult decision to make but in the end of the day, it was decided that athletes should be given a chance to compete. If a student athlete in high school is unable to compete, they have less of a chance of being recruited to play college athletics. For some athletes, college athletics are the only way they can attend college and that is why each high school season is very critical. However, being in such close contact is detrimental during a pandemic due to the fact that if an athlete contracts the virus, the entire locker room could contract the virus as wearing a mask is quite difficult while playing sports. Even though athletes are not as at risk for Covid, they can easily contract the virus and spread it. In high school it is a bit more difficult to control the whereabouts of student athletes. (Schellhorn 3)
College sports approached their seasons a bit differently. College sports are split into different divisions, with Division 1 being the hardest and most popular. For most divisions, fall sports seasons were canceled and moved to the spring. Some Division 1 conferences also went on to follow this template. The Ivies went ahead and canceled all fall sports. Schools that heavily rely on revenue from sports, such as the SEC or the BIG 12, made sure popular sports (such as football) still occurred. However, they also saw a spike in Covid rates in counties containing popular division 1 schools. The following are cases per 100,000 residents for Covid rates in the counties, with the Big 10 seeing 55.5, the SEC seeing 34.7, the ACC seeing 30.6, and the BIG 12 seeing 55.6. (Schad 6)
Programs have utilized multiple tests and quarantining in an attempt to keep players, coaches, and everyone involved safe but to what extent did it really work? Conferences also came together and decided it would be best if they only played conference games. If a school reported too many positive cases, they would be forced to go on a full lockdown and suspend all activities. If a school reported positive cases close to a game, then the school could either cancel or reschedule based on the discretion of both schools involved. In regard to student athletes, the extent to which the program would enforce a lockdown related to the university’s policies, as well as the policies of the conference. I have heard stories of students being suspended from all athletic activities due to leaving campus once. There have also been examples of how COVID-positive student athletes had to quarantine different amounts of time based on the conference their school was a part of. As for fans, most professional sports permitted no fans in the stadium. However, by mid-season, some universities, such as the University of Florida, were petitioning for full stadiums. It was a blatant disregard for public health.
While it was exhilarating for sports to begin again, it was also interesting to see how each sport went on to deal with the pandemic. Hopefully, sports can continue to go on while attempting to keep both players and fans safe.
Edited by Ria Parikh and Abbey Tan