Under pressure: COVID-19-era sports atmosphere facing uncertainty

Harrison Simon, Staff Reporter

The sports world has been thrown for a loop these past 12 months, and now, college teams are feeling the pressure. We are in the midst of a college football season unlike any other. Some teams have been playing since August, some just played their first game last week and some haven’t played at all, like the Pac-12. Countless schools cancelled their seasons entirely, and the impact is being felt in every sport at every division. So the question remains: how will this pandemic shape the long-term future of the NCAA?

We’ve seen professional sports resume play, and the seasons have been spectacular. Last month, the NBA wrapped up its Orlando, Florida, bubble experience as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers took home the Larry O’Brien trophy. The NFL is nearing the halfway point of the season, and despite a couple of cancellations, partially thanks to the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots, the season has gone surprisingly smooth. The Tampa Bay Lightning took home the Stanley Cup as the first major sports champions crowned since the infamous sports shutdown on that fabled day this past March, and with the World Series having just come to a close, it’s safe to say that the big four American sports leagues passed this test with flying colors. 

Although the 2020-21 seasons will likely be shortened or delayed or both — professional leagues will emerge from this pandemic relatively unscathed in the long run, as league revenues will surely spike again after the next year or two. The picture for the NCAA looks a lot less clear for a number of reasons. Let’s look at a few major questions looming over collegiate athletics.

NCAA under pressure amid COVID crisis.

Q: What will happen with college basketball this year?

A: The answer is, we really don’t know. Some schools have already decided they won’t play this year due to safety reasons, and plenty others have made the same decision due to a lack of funding. This issue isn’t all that different from the one plaguing college football, where larger schools manage to thrive while the little guys struggle to survive. The Power Five conferences have all announced their planned schedules, but we won’t know the full landscape of the season until the NCAA announces its decision on tournament play.

Q: Will this pandemic have major lasting effects on the NCAA and the collegiate athletic landscape as a whole?

A: There are two answers here, the short one and the long one. First, the short one: yes and no. Confused? Good, let’s get to the long answer now. College athletes and coaches have been arguing with the NCAA for years over various issues, and this will likely add fuel to that fire. In addition, it seems likely that some action will have to be taken to help out smaller schools in less popular athletic conferences. But we really won’t know the answer to this question until we get some clarity on how long seasons and games will have to be postponed or outright cancelled due to this pandemic. Just a friendly reminder: COVID-19 sucks, and so do the New York Jets.

The NCAA had a $400 million emergency fund in case March Madness ever got cancelled but spent most of it in 2014, with more than $200 million of that paid out to settle a class-action lawsuit. Just some food for thought.

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