Mack: It's About To Get Very Weird Around Here

Chris Mack
March 10, 2020 - 6:53 am

Let’s preface this entire column with one, simple acknowledgment: This isn’t meant to feed in to any undue paranoia. The world isn’t coming to an end. The locusts aren’t swarming and the four horsemen aren’t slowly galloping on to the horizon. 

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But wash your damn hands. And stop picking your nose and biting your nails. And by all means, quit coughing and sneezing on people if you’re the kind of discourteous slug who would do such a thing in the first place.

The novel coronavirus/COVID-19 is beginning to have a legitimate impact on the world of sports, as most major professional sports leagues in North America have decided to close their locker rooms and clubhouses to media. 

I’m not here to argue with you about how or why this tactic alone does or doesn’t make sense.

I’m just here to tell you things are going to get weird for a while here.

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the sports year.

NCAA basketball’s tournaments, the stretch run of the NHL’s and NBA’s regular seasons, and MLB’s Spring Training giving way to Opening Day combine to make the last few weeks of March and early April a sports fan’s dream. The “hope springs eternal” vibe of baseball merges with the increasingly high stakes of the postseason in hockey and hoops and slowly improving weather to breathe new life into many of us.

This spring is going to be very different, not just for fans and media, but for the athletes as well, as there is a very real possibility that many of these games may be played in empty venues.

As the spread of coronavirus continues across the United States and North America, some larger communities are already banning large public gatherings in an attempt to mitigate the spread of a virus that is still, according to researchers and clinicians, at least a year away from having a cure or vaccine ready to combat it.

Officials in Santa Clara County in California instituted a ban on meetings of 1,000 people or more that began at midnight Wednesday and that will last through the end of the month. That means come March 17th, when the San Jose Sharks’ next scheduled home game is slated to be played at SAP Center, there is a very real possibility that it will be played in an empty building.

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The same holds true for the opening weekend of the NCAA Women’s basketball tournament at Stanford and an MLS game all scheduled for later this month in San Jose.

The response to the first confirmed COVID-19 related death in Santa Clara County is a strong, but well measured play-it-safe tactic. You can’t blame any public health official anywhere for having a similar response.

This isn’t a radical overreaction. 

A rapidly spreading virus that has the capability to kill a percentage of the population and as of yet has no cure is easily passed in large groups, so let’s stop hanging out in large groups.

Seems like a logical conclusion. It also seems to be a logical conclusion that COVID-19 will cause fatalities in other regions of the U.S. 

If it makes sense that coronavirus will continue to spread, will continue to cause fatalities in a certain percentage of the population, and that the reasonable response to those fatalities and increasingly rapid spread is to hold contests in empty buildings, be prepared.

We will still get the pomp, circumstance, red-white-and-blue bunting on the railings, and roster introductions of Opening Day. It just might be in an empty ballpark.

We may get a Christian Laettner-style moment in the NCAA Tournament. In an empty building.

We may get a Petr Nedved-in-four-overtimes-style winner in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. In an empty building.

We may get a LeBron James step-back 18-footer over Giannis Antetokounmpo to win a series… in an empty building. Whether LeBron likes it or not.

This isn’t the end of times. The apocalypse is not upon us. But what the most wonderful time of the year is about to illuminate for us very clearly is that things are not so wonderful, and they are about to get very, very weird.

Now go wash your hands. Your screen is filthy.

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