A.B. Sees: Unsung storylines of coronavirus’ impact on sports

The virus’ spread has shut down all sports for the foreseeable future, but there are some important results of this that will be overlooked.

“A.B. Sees” is a column by Aidan Berg which is usually about basketball.

We’ve officially hit the stage of the disaster movie where everyone starts freaking out. As the coronavirus pandemic has continued to progress, institutions across the United States have started to respond in recent days. Much of the response has been on the part of sports leagues.

After Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus Wednesday, the NBA suspended play indefinitely. The NHL followed suit Thursday, while the MLB ended spring training and pushed Opening Day day back two weeks.

All Power 5 conference basketball tournaments were canceled Thursday before the NCAA announced there would be no men’s or women’s NCAA Tournament. Many schools shut down their spring athletics, an approach taken by USC before the whole Pac-12 conference shut down sports events.

So obviously people know that they will be without sports for a while, and that’s really tough for those of us who base most of our personality on following sports. However, there are some unforeseen consequences and implications of shutting down virtually the entire sports industry that, while maybe not the first thing that comes to mind in the midst of this chaos, are interesting to consider.

How will athlete eligibility be handled?

If spring sports are cancelled for the duration of the semester, how will schools award eligibility? Will seniors be forced to leave despite playing none or just a portion of their senior year?

It seems unfair to take away what will likely be the most important season of these players’ lives. They have no control over what’s happening. At the same time, it’s hard to think about how it would work to bring back a class of students who most likely graduated from the school.

It’s also important to remember that this is affecting more than just the popular sports that large fanbases follow. A friend of mine who plays baseball for a Division II school in Michigan tweeted “Today might be the last day I get to put the uniform on and that is a devastating thought.”

If schools do decide that seniors who didn’t get enough of a chance to play can return for another season, how do they decide who is eligible? Teams start and progress through their seasons at different times and paces; will there be a cutoff for which teams qualify?

We’re going to find out a lot about sports institutions in the next few months through their responses to the coronavirus. The eligibility concern will be a major topic if collegiate sports don’t return this spring.

What will fill the void of sports entertainment?

Sam Arslanian and I discussed this on a live stream yesterday when all the news broke, and we agreed that esports could see a major bump in interest with more traditional sports sidelined. Because esports don’t require any sort of human contact and players can compete from completely separate locations (a gamer could even participate while quarantined), they can continue to conduct business almost as if nothing has changed.

This brings up some interesting questions, mainly about whether esports players can raise their level of celebrity to approximate that of traditional athletes. If esports can dominate in the absence of mainstream sports, the profile of its top gamers can raise to the point that they become legitimately recognizable.

I don’t even know what other options there are to take over the attention of sports lovers. Esports can approximate the sports we’re missing with competitive NBA 2K and Madden leagues or introduce viewers to new interests. It’s the total package to help us through this dark time.

How will champions be determined? Will they be determined at all?

Now that March Madness has been canceled, how will this season’s champion be decided? Will it be a BCS-type thing where a committee picks the winner? Will it just be Kansas, who ranked No. 1 in the last AP Poll?

Or will there be a champion at all? It seems weird to not have a champion for what was nearly a full season, but none of the alternatives feel like a reliable method of picking one team that goes down in the history books as the best program from this season.

So, if they decide not to pick a champion, what does that mean? Is 2019-20 just a dead year? Will this year’s title roll over to next season so that whoever wins in 2021 gets two titles? (OK, that wasn’t a serious question, I just thought it was a funny concept.)

It will be interesting to see if what the NCAA does impacts other leagues. How will the NBA approach a potential playoff cancellation? I believe part of the reason the MLB didn’t punish the Houston Astros more for their cheating is that it would be strange not to have a champion for a season that was played all the way through. Will the NCAA’s decision make it seem more viable to not have a champion for a season? Will the MLB retroactively retract Houston’s championship?

These are the rabbit holes one’s mind enters when there’s no games to occupy it.

“A.B. Sees” runs every other Friday.