No way are sports back to normal

Heidi L. EverettColumn, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. JosephLeave a Comment

We don’t have it totally under control.

It’s not going to be just fine.

It didn’t miraculously go away by April, when it got a little warmer.

“We think some of the states can actually open up before the deadline of May 1.” And how’d that work out?

No, 99 percent of COVID-19 cases are not totally harmless.

“The coronavirus is going to go away without a vaccine … and we’re not going to see it again, hopefully.” Still waiting.

“By Memorial Day weekend we will have this coronavirus epidemic behind us.” Maybe Memorial Day 2021.

“By June a lot of the country should be back to normal and the hope is that by July the country’s really rocking again.” It’s the middle of July and we’re not really rocking.

Were these statements wishful thinking or willful ignorance? Normal isn’t coming back after a short break…or perhaps even a long break. By now that should be painfully clear and the approach of two traditional fall routines – back to school and back to football – make that painfully obvious despite happy talk and magical predictions.

During the past few weeks, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association restarted their seasons by placing their teams in bubbles. Games in some sports are underway or soon will be…but with no fans. Before the first major league pitch, Canada told the Blue Jays they would not be welcome to play their home games in Toronto.

We’ll see how long pro sports will be able to continue with no serious Covid-19 outbreaks. Science and human nature say all the teams won’t finish their seasons.

The real test will be how the NFL and college football handle the pandemic. The pressure is on to play for the pros and big-time college teams because billions of dollars are on the line for tickets, television rights and millions of $12-beers. Without football revenue, FOX Sports and ESPN, and to a lesser extent NBC, CBS and ABC, will take huge revenue hits.

Pro football players started to report to camp and college players will soon follow. During summer practices, colleges closed or delayed camps when players tested positive. Most major college conferences, including the Big Ten, canceled their nonconference games and the Ivy League scrapped all fall sports.

At the University of Minnesota, the best-case scenario is a $14 million hole in the athletic budget. If fall sports return without fans, the loss could be $30 million. And if the season is canceled? Don’t even think about what that will mean for the dozen or so low-revenue sports that football supports.

Someone at Stanford did the math and the highly regarded university decided to drop 11 sports after next year because of the expected revenue loss. No field hockey or fencing in Palo Alto. Stanford has been known for its diverse array of teams and its success in nonrevenue sports. Stanford won the Directors’ Cup, given to the best overall athletic department in Division I, for 25 straight years.

Don’t be surprised if similar cuts come to colleges near you.

The complications and costs of testing and quarantining dozens if not hundreds of players and staff is not just an issue for Division I colleges. This week, St. John’s coach Gary Fasching told the StarTribune he expects 220 players arriving on campus for his D-III team. Fasching said testing for each of the seven remaining games on the team’s schedule could cost $154,000.

The paper reported that similar costs for D-II and other D-III colleges could derail the fall season.

The light at the end of Covid-19 tunnel, at least for sports fans, has been the return of sports. But like work, school and entertainment, what we end up with will certainly not be normal if it’s here at all.

Do you really want to cram into First Bank Stadium with 67,000 other people screaming SKOL at the top of their lungs? Super spreaders could kill any prospect of a Super Bowl.

Author: Heidi L. Everett

Heidi joined The Newsleaders Oct. 30, 2020 after being a fan of the St. Joseph edition for 15 years. When she is not sharing local news and stories, she is a professor of strategic communications at St. Cloud State University.

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