Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier managing editor
Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief
Sports teams across the nation, including coaches, players and fans, have experienced schedule readjustments, the introduction of new safety regulations, game (and in some cases season) cancelations and other changes as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Because of flexibility from athletes and audiences alike, professional sports teams, as well as some collegiate level teams, have been able to continue playing under limited circumstances.
Both the NFL and NCAA football leagues resumed their seasons in September and will be concluding their seasons over the holiday season. The NFL regular season will be ending on Jan. 3 with playoff games projected to begin on Jan 9, given that COVID-19 allows. The college football playoffs will be going on as the season progresses and the national championship game will be on Jan 11 in Miami.
As the world approaches the season of winter sports, national and international sports organizations are rethinking their schedules and play to adapt to the pandemic. As the weather gets colder, sports, like basketball and hockey, move inside. While this might be more accommodating in terms of dealing with the climate, hosting sporting events indoors adds another layer of difficulty when addressing the spread of COVID-19.
As explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gyms and other indoor areas where teams might play and practice suffer from a lack of appropriate airflow. Outside, air is not constrained by walls and a ceiling, and the wind provides significant circulation to make the spread of the airborne COVID-19 less of an issue. However, indoors, even with functional air conditioning units, COVID-19 is more likely to spread. This problem is compounded by the fact that when people exercise, they breathe heavier, releasing more particles into the air.
National and international sporting organizations are taking these factors into consideration as they plan their upcoming seasons. The National Hockey League (NHL) hopes to begin their season Jan 1. 2020. While the league plans to continue utilizing player containment, increased testing and other safety mechanisms, ESPN explains that the NHL wants to try to have fans attend games. As Isaac Bogoch, a Canadian infectious disease doctor and scientist who has been working with the NHL, explained to ESPN, most teams hope to have some sort of fan presence at their games. While organizations recognize that the fan presence cannot be at the same level it was prior to the pandemic, with social distancing, limited capacity and mask mandates, some fans will be able to attend the games in-person.
The NHL also wants to be able to implement a plan that would create “hub cities.” As explained in an NHL press release on July 23, in these cities, the NHL would invest in additional safety precautions in order to create a “bubble” of COVID-19 safety, including enhanced city-wide testing and screening processes, in order to ensure that not only the players, but others like coaches, referees and facility operators, could safely participate in the tournaments. In July, the NHL used Edmonton and Toronto as two “hub cities” as part of their “Return to Play” plan, which allowed the continued play-offs for the Stanley Cup after matches were halted due to the coronavirus in March. While the plans are still in the early stages of conception, the NHL is hoping to reutilize this idea in the 2020-2021 season, but has yet to finalize which cities in the United States and Canada these may be.
The NBA will also soon begin their 2021 season. According to NBC Sports, the season will begin on Dec. 22, and the NBA is planning to have a 72-game schedule. This comes just two months after the end of their 2020 season, which was delayed last winter due to the spread of COVID-19.
During the last season of the NBA, the organization implemented a “bubble,” under which all players were essentially confined together in order to acclimate the cross-country teams and limit any potential spread of COVID-19, according to Slate. Effectively quarantined in Orlando, Fl., participating NBA teams lived and played in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. While this was largely seen as effective in stemming the spread of the disease and allowing for the season to continue, the NBA is no longer having an organization wide bubble. Now, teams will be playing in their own arenas, and have more oversight to their own specific COVID-19 guidelines.
The NBA has not completely banned fan presence at games; however, they are requiring any in-person crowds to be socially distant and wearing masks. As explained by the NBA, they organization has outlined more specific guidelines related to fan presence, including requiring fans to test negative for COVID-19 within two days of their attendance of the event if they are sitting within 30 feet of the court.
Despite recent announcements of progress in COVID-19 vaccines from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna, many national sports organizations are instituting major changes to the way their seasons are scheduled and operated. As traditional fall sports like football continue to wrap up their seasons, and winter, indoor sports like hockey and basketball begin, organizations still see COVID-19 as a health threat to players and fans alike, and are continuing to implement policies in order to mitigate those threats.