An unthinkable Thursday: Coronavirus brings the sports world to a screeching halt
A dizzying day hit fans, athletes and all others involved with the games we enjoy, play in and write about seemingly from all sides.
On March 6 — five days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic — a Division III men’s NCAA Tournament game at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was held with ‘‘no spectators’’ signs on the gym doors. It is thought to have been the first U.S. sporting event to be held without fans because of the coronavirus crisis.
Less than a week later, there is little to watch in person or from the couch — the sports world having been largely shut down.
A dizzying Thursday hit fans, athletes and all others involved with the games we enjoy, play in and write about seemingly from all sides.
The NHL put its season on indefinite hold, following the lead of the NBA. Major League Baseball canceled all remaining spring-training games, delayed Opening Day by at least two weeks and postponed qualifying games for the 2020 World Baseball Classic.
‘‘Early questions from players: Do we go home now? Stay [in Arizona] and train? How/when do we start back up? . . . Do we still get paid?’’ Cubs infielder Jason Kipnis tweeted.
The XFL canceled the rest of its regular season. NASCAR announced it will proceed as scheduled but without fans in attendance. On the PGA and LPGA tours and on both major tennis tours, events were postponed or canceled.
High school basketball showcases such as the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic were called off, as were many spring games in college football.
And no one was hit harder than college athletes in the winter and spring sports. The NCAA canceled all remaining championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. This came one day after the NCAA had announced that March Madness would go on without fans at the games.
‘‘These last 24 hours have been heartbreaking,’’ Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said in a statement.
DePaul’s and Northwestern’s women’s basketball teams will miss out on the Big Dance. The Illinois men’s team won’t get to end a six-season NCAA drought after all. Careers instantly ended for all those teams’ seniors. Dreams instantly disappeared for all those players. Fans — especially the long-suffering ones of the Illini — are left without the chance to write the names of their schools into their brackets.
All that opportunity and reward for so much hard work were lost.
‘‘We took away those moments for a significant number of our student-athletes,’’ Whitman said. ‘‘I know they are devastated. I am, as well.’’
The ACC, Big East, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC postponed all competition at least through the end of March. The Big Ten went the furthest of all the major conferences, canceling all games in all sports through the end of the academic year.
Former Michigan basketball coach John Beilein searched for a positive, describing it as a teachable moment.
‘‘When the basketball stops bouncing, what do you got?’’ he said. ‘‘Well, the basketball stopped bouncing. What type of life are you living? What type of values do you have? This is the good stuff that we could use to teach going forward.’’
On Thursday morning, the IHSA announced its games, including the boys state basketball tournaments, would go on with attendance limits. By evening, though, the high school basketballs had stopped bouncing, too, with all remaining tournament games having been canceled.
And what of Olympic hopefuls eyeing the Summer Games set to open July 24 in Tokyo? The future is in doubt for them, too.
As the NBA worked toward a formal announcement on an initial timetable, Jazz All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were being treated after testing positive for the coronavirus. Gobert’s positive test came Wednesday, leading the NBA to suspend its season almost immediately.
On Monday, Gobert, unaware of his infection, jokingly touched phones and recording devices belonging to a group of reporters. A video of that ominous scene has since made the rounds.
‘‘I was careless and make no excuse,’’ Gobert wrote Thursday on his Instagram page. ‘‘I hope my story serves as a warning and causes everyone to take this seriously.’’
Tweeted LeBron James: ‘‘What we really need to cancel is 2020.’’
There can be no redo. And in sports, the show won’t go on for a while.