I would really love for sports to return in full force sometime soon. It would be great to see all the major professional and college sports come back when they’ve planned to do so. Count me as hopeful.
As optimistic? Ehhhh ...
Comb through the news the last couple of days and my optimism has given way to reality.
It looked like things were on track. The Basketball Tournament will hold a pared-down audience-free bracket in July. NASCAR has returned sans fans in the stands. The PGA Tour has done the same. The U.S. Open tennis championships are raring to go.
The NCAA has allowed athletes to return to campus for voluntary workouts. West Virginia high schools have started a phased return to summer workouts for student-athletes.
Three athletes turned up positive for COVID-19 at Marshall University through the mandatory testing that allowed those athletes to return. Testing at West Virginia University found one COVID-19 positive case on the football team. You don’t want anyone to contract the virus, but those numbers were manageable, not too scary. Honestly, considering how many players were returning from how many parts of the country, I was surprised the numbers were that low.
That’s the type of news you want to hear in the return to sports: low, manageable numbers that show that precautions already in place have worked and that athletes have been careful. Keep that up, and you’ll see football kick off in the fall.
Then the happy news train slammed on the brakes.
Eight Kansas State athletes, including at least four football players, have tested positive for COVID-19. Then Texas announced Thursday that 13 football players have tested positive or are presumed positive for the virus. That’s on top of the two positives already found in the Longhorns football program and the other 10 who are asymptomatic but found through contact tracing and now in quarantine.
Those numbers alone are concerning. Now think about how many people those players may have been in contact with prior to finding out they were COVID-19 positive.
This happening in June is one thing. All that’s going on now are voluntary workouts that don’t even have a football involved, just some strength and cardiovascular work. Yet the NCAA has a plan to return to mandatory workouts later this summer in hopes of starting the fall sports calendar at least somewhat on time.
What happens when a player turns up positive during the season? What if more than one turns up positive at the same time? How will a university, which counts on an average football game for a boatload of revenue, handle that on short notice? Cancel a home game? Would a smaller school cancel a “guarantee game” that often comes with a seven-figure check that makes up a sizable chunk of its athletic revenue?
Do I sound like a Chicken Little? Not really, when the state of Florida — a pretty important piece of land in the sporting world — announced Thursday 3,207 new COVID-19 cases, breaking the record for the highest daily total since the state started tracking them. This is after months of having at least some idea of how the virus is spread and how to deter that.
There were photos coming out of Memorial Day weekend of bar-goers literally rubbing shoulders and casting social distancing to the wind. These athletes and coaches could do everything they know possible to stay safe. There’s no guaranteeing everyone around them will practice the same level of caution.
So while I would love for the sporting world to shift into full gear, to see the NFL and the NBA and Major League Baseball and college sports go all out, I know there’s a chance — and the way things are going, there’s a really good chance — that those hopes will be put on hold for a couple of months, if not another year.
So am I hopeful? Sure. Am I optimistic? I’m realistic, and that’s about as far as I’ll go right now.