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COVID-19’s Effect On Sports

TUESDAY — The Outbreak 

The day began like any ordinary day at UCI on Tuesday, March 10. It was a somewhat peaceful afternoon — classes were in session and the only thing on students’ minds were their upcoming finals in the next week. However, that peace was disrupted by one mass email from UCI, stating there was a potential student infected with COVID-19 by the Student Health Center. 

After that, everything went downhill. Minutes after the discovery of a potential COVID-19 patient, Chancellor Howard Gillman sent out another mass email stating the actions the school would take to limit the spread of this disease. From announcing the transition of remote learning in spring quarter, to taking online finals and to strongly advising students living on-campus to return to their original homes, the virus became a serious local threat in just one day.

Classes began shifting online, with some just canceling, during the last week of winter quarter. Tensions rose as contact and close proximity with others seemed frightful. Of course, in the sports world, where events and gatherings like these contain hundreds to thousands of people in a small contained arena, action was called upon almost immediately. 

The Mid-American Conference basketball tournaments announced they would continue tournaments without spectators, the Big West tournament also sent out a statement in regards to the COVID-19 virus. Tournaments would be played without fans. Soon, several other sports organizations followed suit. 

SportsCenter tweeted that the Ivy League had fully canceled their tournaments due to the virus. They also mentioned that Yale would go on to represent the men’s tournament in NCAA while Princeton would represent the women’s.

On Tuesday night, the UCI Women’s basketball team played against Cal Poly without any spectators. This would be the last game of the entire Big West tournament.  

WEDNESDAY — The Catalyst

It is an understatement to say that March 11, 2020 was not eventful in the sports world. In fact, there was plenty going on, but it will be remembered for reasons beyond sports.

With March Madness around the corner, men’s and women’s college basketball teams were in conference tournaments hoping to punch their ticket for the NCAA Tournament.

Major League Baseball continued with their Spring Training. The National Hockey League began their final push towards play-off hockey with five games across North America. Lastly, the National Basketball Association had six games on its slate with a primetime matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets on ESPN. 

In European soccer, the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 fixtures provided a stark reminder of the current reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Champions League

Paris Saint-Germain F.C. and Borussia Dortmund played their match behind closed doors as a measure to contain the virus that has been sweeping through the continent. The echoed shouts and whistles filled the empty Parc de Princes in Paris, France. The faint chants by supporters, who gathered outside of the stadium, could  still be heard through the TV microphones.

In England, the defending European champions, Liverpool, were knocked out of the competition by the visitors, Atletico Madrid. Unlike Paris, the stadium was packed with supporters from both teams. However, it may have been the final time teams play in front of crowds due to the coronavirus. Later that evening, Daniele Rugani, a soccer player for Juventus, became the first known professional athlete to test positive for the virus.

Back in North America, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued a statement that all sporting events in the state, including the NCAA Tournament games, would be played without fans. As a result, the NCAA said that both the men’s and women’s tournaments would be behind closed doors with limited access. This led to the imminent ban on fans for the ongoing conference tournaments. 

A tweet by ESPN senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski said that the NBA’s Board of Governors shared a consensus that the league may continue its season behind closed doors with an announcement to be made the following day. This came after the Golden State Warriors, who are based in San Francisco, stated that they would play their next opponent without fans following a city ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

In Oklahoma City, prior to the tip-off between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz, the game was delayed and postponed for unspecified reasons. As President Donald Trump addressed the U.S.travel ban on Europe, a tweet from NBA Insider for The Athletic, Shams Charania, reported that the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus. In response, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver decided to suspend the NBA season.

Photo by National Basketball Association

The news came out while the Mavericks vs. Nuggets game was well into the second half of play. Cameras caught Mark Cuban, owner of the Mavericks, reacting in shock and disbelief. Soon, social media started buzzing with memes and videos of Gobert making fun of the virus while touching every recording device during an interview a few days prior. 

NBA players reacted on social media, as well. 

“Man we cancelling sporting events, school, office work, etc etc. What we really need to cancel is 2020! Damn it’s been a rough 3 months. God bless and stay safe,” Lebron James tweeted.

It seemed unfathomable to comprehend that only a few hours prior, the first professional athlete COVID-19 case was reported. Now, halfway across the globe, a high profile NBA athlete also tested positive. This forced not only teammates but also opposing teams to self-quarantine and test themselves. 

This eventful Wednesday night left the sports world wondering how serious was COVID-19 and how it was going to affect the rest of the leagues. The NBA suspending their season may have caused so many implications beyond sports. 

THURSDAY — The Downfall

As the week progressed, the virus continued to worsen. News about the NBA G-League suspending broke. Once daybreak hit, news about another Utah Jazz player, Donovan Mitchell, quickly emerged saying that he tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. 

With another player contracting the virus, various different leagues, such as Major League Soccer, the United Soccer League and NHL, followed the trend of suspending regular season games in order to protect players from the risk of contracting the virus and spreading it.

CEO and Chairman for the Women’s Tennis Association Steve Simon tweeted that the Miami Open and Volvo Car Open would “not be held at this time.”

Practices for baseball and football, both of which are in their off-season, would be suspended and postponed. As baseball season was soon underway, beginning in the springtime, it was announced that they would postpone their opening day by two weeks. On top of that, the MLB canceled future spring training games and the World Baseball Classic qualifier was postponed indefinitely. 

With all the major leagues and professional sporting events being cancelled or postponed indefinitely, almost every, if not all college tournaments follow suit as they are cancelled. A little over 20 different basketball tournaments for both men and women were cancelled that day, including the upcoming Big West tournament that was supposed to be held during the weekend of March 13 to the 15. 

UCI Men’s basketball coach Russell Turnergave his opinion on the issue on ucirvinesports.com

“We are obviously disappointed that we won’t be able to compete in the Big West Tournament,” Turner said. “But we are relieved and grateful for our health and the appropriate decisions that have been made. I applaud the decision-makers and the actions that were taken … This is a serious issue for our country and our community and we need to get it right. Sometimes difficult decisions must be made and while we may be inconvenienced with some of those decisions I think we can all be appreciative of all we have here.”

The Big East tournament was cancelled midway through the St. John’s vs. Creighton game.

With so many college basketball tournaments being cancelled, it was only a matter of time until the NCAA canceled the tournament college basketball fans anticipate for every year — March Madness

Nearing the end of the day, it was discovered that Arsenal Head coach, Mikel Arteta, tested positive for COVID-19 and that Arsenal closed its London training facility. 

Globally, COVID-19 had caused a shutting down and postponement of various sporting events. Of course, it also occurred locally at UCI as well.

At 12 p.m., UCI announced that they “suspended all athletic competition effective immediately, in response to COVID-19 concerns.” This, of course, included all competitions and practices for any sporting event at UCI. Naturally, other universities had followed through the same procedures. 

“It has definitely been hard accepting that my junior year water polo season is over,” junior goalkeeper for the UCI’s Women’s Water Polo team, Morgan Jones, said. “I have been playing the sport of water polo for almost 15 years and I have been used to having a schedule that surrounds water polo for years and not having that for a while is very weird to me. I feel saddened for all the seniors who have to end their athletic careers this way. However, it is important for everyone to be healthy, even if that means sacrificing what I love to help the lives of others.”

From a virus that seemed so insignificant days prior, this pandemic illness spiraled quickly out of control. As the sporting world proceeded normally and calmly, it quickly lost control within a matter of a couple days. Events that seemed to be in definite action were postponed or fully terminated.

THE AFTERMATH

The Big West Conference issued a final statement that canceled the entire spring sports season in response to the NCAA canceling all 2020 spring championships on Friday, March 13. The NCAA also looked into granting eligibility relief for affected student-athletes.

In a matter of days, the North American sports landscape changed drastically. The effect of COVID-19 stretched from professional leagues down to the high school levels and below. 

Similar to college seniors, high school seniors had to accept that their prep careers were most likely over as schools in California also shifted to online instruction.

The implications of all these events being put on hold went beyond the general scope of just sports. Without any games in stadiums and arenas, employees on hourly wages would not be able to work during the hiatus, prompting several NBA athletes and teams to donate money to cover the losses.

As each day passes, the COVID-19 situation fluctuates. Each league and organization remains in contact with their fans. However, with every update comes a reminder to remain safe and healthy and to follow guidelines. 

North America was not the only part in the world to take such actions as far as suspending sports.

In China, the Chinese Basketball Association suspended their season in January 2020. Soon, Italy banned fans from stadiums and arenas. Eventually, the COVID-19 outbreak exponentially worsened that it forced the entire Italian peninsula into quarantine.

As life without sports continues, it allows people to wonder how they would feel when their favorite teams and athletes step back onto the court or field. For the time being, people must keep them and their loved ones safe and healthy. When the day sports returns, they can all appreciate what was missed and what will never be taken for granted again.

Avi Gokool is a Sports Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. He can be reached at agokool@uci.edu

Christopher Piazza is a Sports Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. He can be reached at capiazza@uci.edu.