The coronavirus, always in the lead, is beginning to put distance between its relentless self and the local and national sports sensibilities.
The highlight event of the Seattle sports calendar in September, the visit of the Michigan Wolverines and coach Jim Harbaugh to Husky Stadium for a season-opening game Sept. 5 against Washington, was cancelled Thursday.
The Big Ten Conference announced it would play no non-conference football games — if it plays any fall sports at all.
“We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority,” the Big Ten said in a statement. ” . . . By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”
Similar decisions are expected to be repeated around the Power 5 conferences and throughout college athletics as the virus rages, supercharged by a deliberately hapless federal government, and individuals convinced that mandatory mask-wearing is a threat to their liberty, when it is a mere extension of the social contract that is the foundation of the U.S. Constitution.
In a time of great need for unity and common purpose, too many, starting most influentially at the White House, are going it alone.
Even the college conferences operate within own orbits and rules, making inter-conference play an awkward competition of untrackable health standards.
The football field may be 100 yards in Montlake and Ann Arbor, but are the airport, hotel and visitors’ locker room sanitized the same as back home? Who says so? And what happens if 10 Wolverines players test positive the week after the Seattle trip? Do the Huskies shut down their following game?
So many questions. And no answers, except to avoid the situation entirely.
“Earlier today (Michigan athletics director) Warde Manuel notified me of the Big Ten’s decision to play a conference-only schedule this fall, cancelling our Sept. 5 game with Michigan at Husky Stadium,” UW AD Jennifer Cohen said in a statement. “Our fans and football program have been looking forward to this game for several years, but we understand this decision was made due to the impact of COVID-19 and prioritizing the health and well-being of student-athletes.”
The Michigan game was considered UW’s premier showcase in an otherwise lackluster home schedule — Oregon State, Arizona, Stanford and Colorado in conference, plus two non-conference snoozers against Sacramento State and Utah State, should they choose to come. The Huskies are on the road against Oregon, Utah, USC, Washington State and Cal.
If the Pac-12 chooses to follow the Big Ten’s lead, UW would cancel Sac State and Utah State. After a bye Sept. 26, the season opener could be at Eugene Oct. 3. That might be distant enough that by then, the virus would have ebbed — or by then, college football finally might say the hell with 2020, vowing to try again in spring.
A spring season might be plausible, if only because it gives a chance for many college students to return in person, which the Pac-12 presidents agreed earlier was a mandatory minimum ahead of the resumption of sports.
The students also by then might have a better understanding of the notion of personal responsibility. The world saw a snapshot recently from UW’s Greek Row, where the frats produced 157 positive tests from a summer population of about 1,100.
The students were all asymptomatic, and so far none have been reported hospitalized. Which doesn’t mean they couldn’t become super-spreaders with continued mask-less, reckless, entitled behavior.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer with Public Health – Seattle & King County, called the outbreak “very concerning” regarding potential compromise to the wider student body later on.
“It does make us worry about what might happen this fall,” Duchin told reporters July 3. “We understand there was a lot of socializing, a lot of risk-taking, not a lot of mask-wearing going on . . . When you do that and you don’t take precautions, you get a lot of COVID.”
That’s mostly why the eight Ivy League schools said this week they were suspending football and all sports through the fall, the first Division I conference to do so.
“We simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk,” the Ivy League Council of Presidents said in a statement. But the schools’ athletics budgets aren’t build upon TV revenues, as is the case with Power 5 conferences, which will cause them to push the safety limits to the edge, wherever that may be.
Besides college, the high-risk attempts to start or re-start sports amid produced much news in the past couple of days:
• The Seahawks became the 14th known NFL team to write season ticket holders with the option to skip the 2020 season without penalty. A club email Thursday said fans could request a refund and pause their membership for the 2020 season, or defer credit towards the 2021 season.
The NFL hasn’t yet flinched on an on-time start in September, but it also hasn’t reached an agreement with the players union on the exhibition season in August. The owners offered to trim from four games to two, and the players want zero, to reduce health risks and to allow a more measured training camp.
• Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto reported three positive tests among returning players, but because of federal medical privacy rules and an agreement with the union, would not identify them.
The Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish wrote that five players have been absent for all of the first week of workouts — OF Mallex Smith, INF/OF Dylan Moore, C Joe Hudson, reliever Yoshihisa Hirano and OF Julio Rodriguez. But Rodriguez, the highly valued prospect, was back Thursday.
“Right now we’re pleased with how things are going overall,” Dipoto said. “Our players got in early. We got through the testing and we got out on the field in about as seamless a fashion as we could have hoped.”
• MLS has had two of its 26 teams, Nashville and Dallas, drop out of its bubble tourney underway without spectators near Orlando, FL., after the virus shredded their rosters. The defending champion Sounders reported no confirmed cases ahead of their tourney opener at 6 p.m. Friday (ESPN) against San Jose, but are missing Will Bruin and Joao Paulo because of injuries.
Seattle plays at 6 a.m. Tuesday (ESPN) against Chicago and 7:30 p.m. July 19 (FS1) against Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver at 7:30 p.m. All three results will count in MLS standings, should the regular season return. In the tourney, the top two teams from the six groups, plus the next four with the best records, will advanc to the knockout stage.
• The WNBA bubble got off to a bad start at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL., with social media reports sent to Deadspin by players of bed bugs, mouse traps, other unsanitary conditions and poor food, including a video from the Storm’s Breanna Stewart showing bed bug traps.
• In the spectator-free National Women’s Soccer League bubble tourney in Utah, which lost one team (Orlando) to a virus spike, the OL Reign of Tacoma had a scoreless draw, a loss and a win in its first three games. They play Monday against Portland at 12:30 p.m. (CBS All Access).
• The NHL and its players union have reached a tentative agreement on calendar dates for the playoff season in the bubbles of Edmonton and Toronto. Games begin Aug. 1, the Stanley Cup Finals start Sept. 20, and the last possible game is Oct. 2.
A bigger development for fans of Seattle’s expansion franchise: The start of the inaugural 2021-22 season was pushed back to Dec. 1.
Covid-related delays in construction pushed back the arena opening from June ’21 to September, so the the Dec. 1 start should take more pressure off the complicated project.
Who says there’s no good news in sports?
There’s room for humor too. Here’s a voice-over meme making Twitter-hockey circles about the choices for the hub cities. Dare you to not laugh:
Unbelievable how funny this is!!! pic.twitter.com/sMMCmfWhPI
— Todd Fedoruk (@fridge29) July 5, 2020