Unprecedented: coronavirus pandemic to have a major impact on American sports (updated)


On Sunday I posed the question, Will coronavirus lead to sporting events being played without fans in the stands? I reviewed what sports leagues had done to date in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus crisis a pandemic:

By reversing course and using the charged word “pandemic” that it had previously shied away from, the U.N. health agency sought to shock lethargic countries into pulling out all the stops.

“We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear,” sad Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief.

“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response,” he said. “We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.”

The NCAA responded immediately: NCAA hoops tournaments will be played without fans:

The NCAA made the unprecedented decision Wednesday to hold its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments without fans because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed.”

Emmert told The Associated Press that canceling was considered.

“We recognize our tournaments bring people from all around the country together,” Emmert told The AP in a phone interview. “They’re not just regional events. They’re big national events. It’s a very, very hard decision for all the obvious reasons.”

Other items Emmert told The AP:

      • The NCAA is looking into moving the men’s Final Four from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a smaller arena. The NCAA will consider using smaller venues for the men’s regionals currently scheduled to be played at the Toyota Center in Houston; Madison Square Garden in New York; Staples Center in Los Angeles; and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
      • All sites for next week’s men’s games will remain the same unless conditions in those areas force relocation.
      • Emmert said a protocol for the medical screening of people entering the arenas is still being worked out, along with what constitutes essential staff and how to define family members.
      • CBS and Turner plan to broadcast the games as usual. Other media members will be allowed into the arenas to cover the games, but how many is still being determined.

Wednesday’s decision applies to more than just men’s and women’s basketball. All NCAA-sponsored championships will be affected, including hockey’s Frozen Four (April 9-11 in Detroit) and wrestling (March 19-21 in Minneapolis).

The NCAA announcement came after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he would issue an order that would ban fans from NCAA tournament games in Cleveland and First Four games in Dayton.

Many conference tournaments will also be played without fans. The Mid-American Conference closed its men’s and women’s basketball tournament games at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and scheduled site of the men’s NCAA games, to the general public. The women’s tournament started Wednesday.

The Big West Conference announced a similar move, not allowing the general public into its basketball tournament games to be played this week at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

Conference college basketball tournaments are in full swing across the country this week. The Atlantic Coast Conference is on Day 2 of its five-day men’s tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Pac-12 played the first game of its tournament in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Later Wednesday, the SEC was to begin its men’s tournament in Nashville, Tennessee; the Big East was set to start at Madison Square Garden in New York; and the Big Ten was scheduled to tip off in Indianapolis. There were no plans to restrict fan access to those events.

March Madness hits another level next week with the start of the NCAA tournament to crown a national champion, one of the most popular events on the American sports calendar.

The 68-team men’s field is scheduled to be announced Sunday, and the 64-team women’s field is set to be unveiled Monday.

The coronavirus crisis has hit NBA basketball as well. Coronavirus live updates: Warriors to play in empty arena (excerpts):

As college basketball’s postseason, MLB Opening Day and the NBA and NHL stretch runs approach, the coronavirus is set to have a serious effect on American sports.

NCAA president Mark Emmert has announce that all Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournament games will be played in arenas without fans. According to Emmert’s statement, only “essential staff and limited family” will be allowed to attend. (See above).

The College Basketball National Invitational Tournament (NIT) has been canceled.


UPDATE 3/12/20: NBA’s season suspended after player tested positive for coronavirus:

The NBA has confirmed its season has been suspended after a player has tested positive on Wednesday for coronavirus.

“The NBA announced that a player on the Utah Jazz preliminary tested positive for COVID-19,” the NBA said in a statement. “The test result was reported shortly prior of tonight’s game between the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. At that time, tonight’s game was canceled. The affected player was not in the arena.”

The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice. The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”

ESPN reported that the player that tested positive was Jazz star Rudy Golbert.


      • The Seattle Mariners and Major League Baseball are reportedly looking into moving the Mariners’ season opening home series vs. the Texas Rangers from Seattle, because of its proximity to the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S.
      • The regular season has not started yet, but in spring training and for the foreseeable future, locker rooms will be closed to the media in an effort to limit the amount of contact between players and media members.

And when these teams leave their spring training cites in Arizona and Florida, and return to play the regular season in the cities they represent? Major League Baseball appears not to be taking this as seriously as other sports leagues, and has not addressed playing regular season games without fans.


      • The Maple Leafs halted air travel for their European-based scouts, amateur scouts and professional scouts that have territory throughout North America. Team scouts that need to travel will do so by car.
      • The NHL regular season is set to continue as scheduled with the final day on April 6 and the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning shortly after.
      • The league closed locker room access to media members, beginning Monday.
      • The San Jose Sharks in particular are feeling the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak. Santa Clara County health officials announced a temporary ban on all events that would draw large gatherings and possibly spread the virus. That ban, which prohibits crowds of more than 1,000 people, will carry through at least the end of March and could affect multiple San Jose Sharks games scheduled at SAP Center in the coming weeks.
      • The Columbus Blue Jackets will play their remaining home schedule without fans at Nationwide Arena, as long as a state-wide ban on large gatherings is in effect.

UPDATE: On Thursday, the NHL suspended play immediately due to coronavirus but hopes to resume play in the future.


      • The Seattle Dragons will host Los Angeles Wildcats on Sunday without fans in attendance.

UPDATE: On Thursday, XFL cancels regular-season games, ‘committed’ to playing in 2021.


      • Juventus announced on Wednesday that defender Daniele Rugani has tested positive for coronavirus, the first notable case of a professional athlete contracting the disease.
      • The Seattle Sounders have postponed their March 21 match against Dallas.

UPDATE: On Thursday, MLS suspends 2020 season for 30 days due to coronavirus impact.

If the coronavirus crisis continues into the late summer and fall, college football and the National Football League are going to have to address preseason and regular season football games.

This is unprecedented. We are about to experience something in America we have never witnessed before. These sports leagues are multi-billion dollar businesses. The economic disruption form the coronavirus epidemic is going to have a major impact on the American economy.

UPDATE 3/12/20: Better late than never. Major League Baseball Delays Start of Season and Suspends Spring Training Games:

Major League Baseball became the latest professional sports league to respond to the threat of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, postponing the start of its regular season by at least two weeks.

The league also announced that all spring training games would be canceled, effective immediately.

“Following a call with the 30 clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. today announced that M.L.B. has decided to suspend spring training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic,” M.L.B. said in a statement.

Baseball acted only after the N.B.A., the N.H.L. and M.L.S. — the three active major American professional leagues — had all made announcements suspending their seasons. Baseball’s regular-season schedule was set to begin on March 26, giving M.L.B. the advantage of time, but preseason exhibitions continued as scheduled Thursday morning — with, as always, thousands of fans and stadium workers mingling at the games.

* * *

In Japan, which has more than 1,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, the professional baseball league on Monday postponed the start of its season, which had been set to begin on March 20.

SECOND UPDATE 3/12/20: NCAA basketball tournaments canceled in response to coronavirus:

For the first time in 82 years, the country will spend a March absent one of the more animating links of its fabric. The NCAA on Thursday afternoon, citing mounting concerns over the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic, canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

The NCAA also cancelled all other winter and spring championships.

“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during the academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities,” the NCAA said in its statement.

* * *

The NCAA made the unprecedented decision at the end of a dizzying day of cancellations across college basketball and the sports world. A riptide of coronavirus-related decisions began in late morning when a slew of Division I conferences canceled their basketball tournaments minutes apart, continued in early afternoon as the Big East in New York followed after one half of play, and persisted across the day as schools such as Duke, Virginia, Kansas, Arizona State announced the suspension of all their athletic events and travel.


  1. I was at the Giants/Dodgers spring opener. It was great, but not worth getting sick over.

    We have the first confirmed COVID19 case in my family, a relative by marriage, elderly, in Oklahoma, in a nursing home for active old folks. We thought he had pneumonia and that was scary enough.

    His two daughters are showing symptoms and being tested.

    I’ve never met him, don’t be concerned for me, but if it’s already hit an Oklahoma nursing home, I’m going to say COVID19 is everywhere by now.

    I hope everyone is okay.

Leave a Reply