The Madness of March

COVID-19 has brought the world to a standstill. As people are losing jobs and many schools have begun to close, the sports world has also been hit hard by the virus. The NCAA has canceled March Madness, the largest NCAA sanctioned event of the year, and all collegiate sports for the remainder of the year. The NHL and the NBA have both suspended play for the foreseeable future. The Masters, arguably golf’s most prestigious event, has been postponed. Spring Training for Major League Baseball has been canceled completely, and opening day for the season has been delayed. The 2020 Olympic games have been postponed for a year, and the ATP and WTP tours have been suspended for at least six months.

This suspension of sports has been quite a disappointment for sports fans. March Madness is usually one of the most exciting times of the year for sports fans. There is non-stop coverage of 67 games over the course of three weeks. Instead of sports fans getting their fix with an endless supply of college basketball in addition to staple competitions such as the Masters and the end of the NBA regular season, sports have been halted altogether. The impact of the coronavirus can be seen by tuning into channels like ESPN or Fox. Television networks are filling airtime with footage of events like national cornhole competitions and replays of NCAA basketball national championship games from 2008. 

The justification behind putting sports on pause is to reduce the spread of COVID-19, by preventing large gatherings of people like at sporting events. The coronavirus spreads “easily and sustainably” according to the CDC, which is why all professional sports leagues have taken action to suspend their seasons. Leagues have adhered to the social distancing advice given by the government especially after some professional athletes began to test positive for the disease. 

While the temporary stoppage of all sports has had a significant impact on the avid sports fan, this stoppage will also have a massive financial impact that will be felt in the future. The cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournament, for example, will have a lasting impact on college athletics as a whole. First, the NCAA is going to miss out on millions of dollars worth of ticket sales over the course of the tournament. The NCAA could lose out on many more millions of dollars, depending on the language of their contracts with different media organizations.

One of the most important aspects of the cancellation of the tournament is its effect on the way that the NCAA redistributes money to different college athletic programs. In the tournament, the NCAA rewards teams by making contributions, of upwards of $280,000, to the conference of the team that wins any particular game. The conferences then typically redistribute this money evenly among the schools within them. This is how many schools fund athletic programs that do not bring in revenue for the school. Without this kind of redistribution of money from the NCAA tournament, it is unclear how many schools will continue to fund their less lucrative sports programs. 

The issue of COVID-19 does not appear to have an end in the near future. Data from China is showing that the percentage of COVID-19 cases that require hospitalization is around 20 percent of all cases. That value is about ten times as high as the rate of hospitalization for the flu. Incoming data also alleges that the amount of time that the average time a patient with COVID-19 spends in the hospital is about eleven days, which is twice as long as the average stay for a patient with the flu. So, not only will more people be admitted to the hospital, but these people will be admitted for longer periods of time. As many public health experts have highlighted, the U.S. healthcare system is likely to be extremely strained over the course of this pandemic. All of these ideas suggest that this battle with the new coronavirus will not be over quickly. As the U.S.continues to feel the impact of COVID-19, some professional sports organizations are taking actions to remain in the forefront of the sports world.

There are a few emerging options for avid sports fans to help ease pain associated with the suspension of most professional and amateur sports. NASCAR and Formula 1 have begun a transition to virtual events instead of their normally scheduled races. NASCAR began iRacing and had some of its biggest stars (Dale Earnhart Jr. and Denny Hamlin) compete in a simulated race at Homestead Miami Speedway. La Liga, the top Spanish soccer league, also held a FIFA tournament for charity that featured professionals playing as their own teams. It will be interesting to see if other major sports leagues attempt to remain relevant by organizing these types of virtual competitions until the COVID-19 situation dies down. If other leagues do not follow this route, then, unfortunately, sports fans will likely have to be satisfied with the stone-skipping competitions currently being offered on ESPN 8’s “The Ocho”.

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