NCAA Tourney Canceled, Sports Leagues Suspended Over COVID-19

Looks like Justin Verlander will get a little extra time off to rest that sore lat.
Looks like Justin Verlander will get a little extra time off to rest that sore lat. Photo by Jack Gorman
Most professional sports leagues have announced over the past couple of days that they would be suspending play for at least a month. In the case of the fledgling XFL and the NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments, it's full on cancellation.

On Thursday, the NCAA announced it would cancel March Madness with no intention of resuming at a later date. The XFL suspended the season at the halfway mark, while agreeing to pay its players for the full season and committing to being back in 2021.

This comes on the heels of announcements from the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS, all suspending play. The NBA and NHL are on hold despite being in the throes of a playoff race. In the case of the NBA, they now have two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, both on the Utah Jazz.

Soccer has suspended its season with the hopes of resuming later and baseball has simply ended Spring Training and pushed back the start of the regular season by a minimum of two weeks.

With major cities across the country banning events larger than 100- or 200-plus people, it was rapidly becoming a foregone conclusion that something would have to give. Given the length of the sports seasons and the expectation that the viral outbreak will not last forever, suspending seasons made sense.

But for the NCAA Tournament, one of the biggest American sporting events each year, it had to be cancellation. They had earlier announced games would be played in front of limited crowds, even moving games to smaller venues. Eventually, however, the NCAA Board of Governors made the wise decision to cancel it outright and focus on next year.

Over the course of the last several weeks, as the number of infected people across the globe has exploded, communities are realizing the safest way to avoid spikes in infections and protect limited healthcare services was to advise "social distancing," to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Setting aside sporting event crowds, the proximity of players, particularly in contact sports, makes them particularly vulnerable to infection.

It could be months before the virus is under control in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some areas will most certainly be harder hit than others. So, leagues will have to balance the greater good against not only the cost to themselves but to all of their partners and staff members. Dallas Mavericks owner Marc Cuban announced he would continue to pay arena staff members during the suspension and it is expected many other owners may follow suit.

For now, in one of the typically busiest times of the year for sports, there won't be much to discuss on sports talk and no highlights on Sports Center. How long that lasts is anyone's guess.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke