Jack’s Facts: What the coronavirus pandemic might mean for the future of college sports
(Illustration by Firyal Bawab/Daily Bruin)
By Jack Perez
June 10, 2020 6:49 p.m.
The day I got the call informing me I would be the new Sports editor for Daily Bruin, I had two immediate thoughts. The first: how lucky I was to follow in the footsteps of some of my mentors in helping our section grow throughout the next year.
The second: How will I run my section when there aren’t any sports going on?
When the NCAA canceled the remaining winter and spring sports March 12, players, coaches and fans were disappointed, but everyone who was following these teams knew that the season was done and over. I thought another season would start in the near future and hopefully everything would be back to normal when we reached it.
Whenever that may be.
The first barrier to normalcy is the country’s fight against the virus that interrupted the sports world in the first place. Although decision-makers have taken their thoughts away from the coronavirus’ impact on sports for now, the conferences, universities and state and local governments will soon have to decide whether it’s worth the risk to allow all sports to proceed come the scheduled start to the seasons.
The first place to look for possible outcomes would be professional leagues. In the United States, the NBA and NHL are both aiming to restart their seasons at or near the playoffs in July in limited cities. MLB has yet to start its season as the players and owners fight over prorated salaries and other resulting crises brought on by the postponement of the 2020-2021 campaign.
On the other hand, the NFL currently plans for business to go on as usual, with no announcements of any delays to the regularly scheduled September starting date of the 2020 regular season, but with the likelihood that there will be fan restrictions when games do begin. The league does have plans in place should a second wave hit in the fall and games must be delayed.
While the NCAA could mimic any of the nation’s professional leagues, the most likely outcome will be the one we’ve seen from overseas. Unfortunately, that possibly means something no one wants to think about – no fans.
The Korea Baseball Organization – South Korea’s professional baseball league – started up with no fans in the audience, limited media presence and constant COVID-19 testing for players. Any nonplayers or noncoaches at games will also be required to wear face masks at all times.
The Pac-12 has announced that college athletes could return to schools beginning this month. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that professional sports could come back in June, possibly leading to colleges opening up next. However, most universities, UCLA included, have been silent on exactly when athletes will be able to use campus facilities and train in team settings.
Even with players and coaches all returning, the reality of the situation is fans will probably not be allowed in large numbers for college football at stadiums. The resulting financial downturn could impact other sports’ abilities to stay afloat.
While there has not been any discussion on cutting any Division I sports at UCLA, the same cannot be said for other universities, as schools like Cincinnati, Furman and Wright State have eliminated one or more athletic programs each.
At the moment, signs from conference commissioners point to limited fans, media and personnel allowed in during gameday for football. For other sports, nothing may be known for certain until campuses are fully opened back up to students, although I would not be surprised if schools start to announce preliminary plans soon.
However, while all this has been in view for months now, the nation is dealing with bigger issues than sports at the moment. Protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers have gone on for weeks now and show little sign of slowing down.
Even when they’re back in Westwood, athletes’ reactions to racial injustice and the ongoing protests and movements could be something to watch out for when games start up. Many UCLA stars and coaches – including football quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, gymnast Margzetta Frazier and women’s soccer coach Amanda Cromwell – have been outspoken on social media about speaking out against complacent systems and programs.
Whether these protests carry over into the fall remains to be seen, but recent events’ impact on the sports world will be undeniable and potentially everlasting.