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How the COVID-19 pandemic could impact fall sports

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This situation could be far from over.

Northwestern v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

As anybody reading this site knows, coronavirus has already taken its toll on the sports world. From March Madness to Rudy Gobert’s nonsense, the Olympics and beyond, every single sports fan, team and league across the world (minus the Belarusian Premier League) has played witness to mass cancellations and postponements of both games and tournaments.

And it appears the problems are just beginning.

It’s already depressing enough to have a March without the tournament, no visits to the bricks and ivy this spring and an NBA season cut short, but that’s our current reality. To add to that, it’s very possible, and increasingly likely, that both college and professional fall sports will be impacted.

How could that happen? To understand the impact, we must first understand how exactly this pandemic may play out. I would like to point out that I’m not a health expert, but this is just information I’ve gathered from extensive research.

  1. We must do our part to “flatten the curve.” This is a phrase that has been widely circulated through nearly every single media outlet in the past few weeks. “Flattening the curve” refers to reducing the amount of people who get sick at once. If the United States successfully flattens the curve as much as possible, the pandemic will be more drawn out. Obviously a small price to pay if less people die, though.
  2. Second and third waves of outbreaks are likely. The first wave in the United States is getting started, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Places like Hong Kong survived first and second waves just fine, let their guard down just a bit and are now prepping for a third wave of cases. The U.S. could be in for this, especially if people let their guard down once the first wave seems to be ending.

These two points have an impact on what is spelled out below, so I felt it was important to list them. Let’s dive in to the sports portion now.

How COVID-19 has already impacted fall sports

Nearly two weeks ago, after the NCAA made the decision to cancel all winter and spring championships, a dead period was declared for all recruiting until at least April 15. During this dead period, the Council leadership placed a ban on in-person recruiting for Division I coaches. Additionally, all athletic departments were advised to suspend all official and unofficial visits for potential student-athletes.

After this decision was made, the Collegiate Commissioners’ Association ruled to suspend all National Letter of Intent signings until at least April 15 as well.

One of the first sports that comes to mind here, of course, is football. Recruiting plays such a large role in college football, and the impact of these decisions, while they were the right ones to make, could be monumental.

There are truly hundreds of hypotheticals I could dive into regarding this situation. However, rather than grabbing a half-empty glass of water and jumping in head first, it’s good to look at the bright side of this situation.

First, the NCAA said that one of their main reasons for this ruling was to “prioritize the mental health of student-athletes, coaches and administrators.” In times like these, personal health is number one. Recruiting can take a back seat.

On top of that, it’s likely that recruiting may not be impacted in a very big way. NLIs will still be signed, regardless of whether or not ESPN has camera crews covering the top recruits as they seal their choice. In-person visits may remain limited, sure, but coaches can still make calls and sway recruits their way.

At this point, we’ll have to wait and see. That seems to be the answer to just about everything nowadays.

How COVID-19 could further impact fall sports

Alright, time to go doomsday.

In this time of uncertainty, it’s damn near impossible to whip out the crystal ball and predict the future, but we can use models and predictions created by some health experts to help us out.

Even amidst recent claims by President Trump that the U.S. will be opening up again “fairly soon,” many health experts are warning against following that advice. According to recent estimates from WHO and the CDC, we should expect to see the pandemic continue for at least a few months even in a best-case scenario.

Then comes the possibility of multiple waves. If we let our guard down, it’s very, very likely that outbreaks will crop back up.

So, here’s what could happen. As of now, it’s tough to see the NCAA canceling fall sports, but it all depends on how we as a community respond to this pandemic. Seriously, your actions have an impact here.

I could see college football being played in empty stadiums to at least start the season. An empty Ryan Field wouldn’t be too different from the attendance we saw last season, but it would certainly be a unique situation.

The NCAA will most likely base its fall sports decisions on what professional sports leagues decide to do. If the MLB eventually begins their season, perhaps sometime this summer, they will start behind closed doors. The NBA will do the same if its attempt to finish its seasons. So, at this point, it seems like one thing will be guaranteed to start: no fans.

While the idea of no fans being allowed at stadiums like Ryan Field and Martin Stadium is a painful thought, we need to look at the bright side here. This pandemic is only temporary. Eventually, our beloved sports will return. For now, however, we must focus on riding this out, flattening the curve and doing out part to ensure the safety of both ourselves and others.

The outlook may seem grim, but I find it doubtful that the NCAA will cancel fall sports. Have patience, Northwestern fans.

Sports could be a few months away. They might just be a little different than what we’re used to seeing.