Updated: Dec 31, 2020
The way to an American’s heart is through his or her throwing hand. Sports, being a cornerstone of US-American culture, are the subject of serious worrying during the Coronavirus pandemic. When the virus first hit, winter sports’ championship seasons were cut short and tournaments were cancelled. The entire spring season was cancelled, and the NCAA eligibility of all D-1 athletes in spring sports was extended by 1 year to ease worries about college athletic careers being cut short. This was the very first of many accommodations that educational athletic institutions took to deal with the pandemic, but it was not without its fair share of controversy. Winter athletes protested unequal treatment from the NCAA which refused to extend their eligibility as a compensation for the cancellation of their championship season.
However, controversy did not end there. The pandemic has lasted much longer in the US than initially anticipated. What most people thought would be resolved by May is now expected to last all the way into 2021, and unlike learning, participation in sports cannot be easily moved online unless we decide that playing Madden is the equivalent of playing football. Some of the worries at the collegiate level of athletics are caused by disruptions at the high school level. Recruitment for NCAA sports in next year’s admissions cycle will now be shrouded in confusion, since coaches cannot watch prospective players before lineup decisions need to be made and college applications returned.
High school student athletes and their families are also very concerned about the future of their sports. For rising seniors with college aspirations, this is the last opportunity to compete in their sports, and for students that compete in multiple sports, discussions about potential changes to the athletic schedule are very worrisome. In Virginia, the Virginia High School League released a statement earlier this week regarding reopening guidelines for sports. High school athletics will proceed in one of three ways. In the first option, sports schedules would proceed as planned, but the sports that would have ordinarily had their seasons during the fall are just outright cancelled for the full year. Sports like cross country and golf which can easily manage contact between players could still go on, but crowd favorites like football and field hockey would not happen in 2020. Alternatively, spring sports would flip schedules with fall sports, since spring sports like tennis and track tend to require less contact. Sports like soccer would still be cut. The last plan that the state of Virginia proposed would shorten every sports’ season and start with the winter sports in December. After the abbreviated winter season, the fall and spring seasons would follow in the same order. This is an example of one state’s solution, but states will naturally plan their sports schedules with specificities relevant to their unique situation in the pandemic. States with significantly worse responses to the crisis will likely impose stricter guidelines, while states that have more or less recovered may be more liberal opening up.
No matter what plans the NCAA and high schools implement, people are inevitably going to be infuriated. Athletes with professional or collegiate aspirations have their futures on the line, and time is of the essence. Without any information on how long the pandemic will last and how soon after the athletic seasons can start, no real plans can be cemented, and athletes will only grow more and more critical of their institutions’ responses to the impossible situation.