The majority of sports-related headlines over the past month have been connected in some capacity to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it’s cancelled games due to outbreaks, falsified vaccination cards, or closed borders for major international tournaments, almost every major sport (and most minor sports) have been impacted, from youth sports to the professional level. After it appeared things were calming down over the summer, the most recent surge has thrown everyone into reaction/panic mode and the sports world is no exception.
There is no better example of the struggles with the pandemic on professional sports than the NHL. The NHL was seeing waves of outbreaks in mid-December where 5+ members of several teams were testing positive or close contacts and forced to enter health and safety protocols. The rash of cases grew so rapidly, the league decided to take drastic but necessary action when they halted all games days early for winter break beginning on December 19th and resuming on December 28th (with an already scheduled few day break for teams in the middle). Prior to the forced break, 44 games had already been rescheduled due to the pandemic, including 39 in just the week before the stoppage. At any moment during that week, around 15% of all players in the league were in COVID protocols.
Since returning to play, there have been another rash of postponements and players entering protocol and while more games are being played as planned, the league is far from out of the woods (along with North America as a whole). The hope of a cleaner, more normal season in 2021 and 2022 has been thrown out the window and it’s a day-time decision whether we will have hockey to watch or whether our favorite players will miss a few games due to a positive test or close contact. The NHL is obviously not alone in this scheduling battle, the NBA has also taken a major hit with dozens of games being played with skeleton rosters due to protocols and exposures. The NFL has also been forced to move the schedule around to fit in games with team outbreaks, along with a number of teams playing with their 3rd or even 4th string QB thanks to a wave of positive COVID cases on the roster.
Collegiate sports have seen a major hit to scheduling and playing as well. Most NCAA basketball teams have had at least some small outbreak on their roster or had games cancelled/postponed due to an outbreak on the opponent’s roster. There are a number of teams who haven’t played since well before Christmas and are still having their games postponed and cancelled. The UConn women’s basketball program has had 4 straight games postponed or cancelled and last played on December 19th. They currently have a game scheduled for January 9th against Creighton and if it isn’t postponed, would be their first live action in 21 days. The UConn men’s basketball program last played a game on December 21st against Marquette and have had 2 games postponed since.
The hope of a more normal sports calendar all around in 2021 and 2022 has unfortunately not come to fruition. There is always next year, right?