Professional and college sports are attempting to adjust to a rapidly escalating health crisis, with leagues, colleges and public institutions around the world Wednesday announcing cancellations, postponements and changes of venues.
The NBA announced that it will suspend the season after Wednesday night’s games until further notice as it deals with the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement came shortly after a game between the Utah Jazz and host Oklahoma City Thunder was called off moments before tipoff.
Players were in quarantine at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City after a player ESPN identified as Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus.
The NBA said in a statement the hiatus is indefinite and next steps would be determined after discussions with experts.
—Major League Baseball is formulating contingency plans for regular-season games with respect to the outbreak.
The Wall Street Journal’s Jarred Diamond reported that MLB is looking into different sites for games once the season begins later this month as opposed to playing in empty stadiums.
Teams could play at other MLB stadiums in cities less affected by the coronavirus when the primary tenant is on the road, per the report. Spring training facilities in Arizona or Florida are also being considered to host games.
In the event that large public gatherings are banned by local authorities — for example, such as what is currently being performed in Santa Clara County in California — then playing in an empty stadium would be considered.
Diamond, however, said that MLB is not entertaining the idea of canceling the regular season.
—NCAA president Mark Emmert announced that “only essential staff and limited family” will be allowed to attend all upcoming NCAA championship events, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
“The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel,” Emmert said in a statement. “Based on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA Board of Governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance.”
Earlier in the day, the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel recommended the move, as colleges around the country address whether to hold classes on campus or send students home and conduct classes online. State and local governments have also been limiting crowd sizes in public spaces, also impacting whether fans will be allowed to attend sporting events.
The NCAA hasn’t yet determined whether media will be allowed at each site.
Later in the day, Michigan announced it has canceled its annual spring football game, scheduled for April 18 in Ann Arbor. The school also canceled any third-party competitions and events set to be held on its athletic facilities through April 21. The athletic program will deal with activities after that date on a case-by-case basis and “work proactively with all groups on refunds.”
—On Wednesday night, the University of Texas announced all home athletic events through March 22 will be contested without fans in attendance. That will include baseball games and tennis matches.
—The Pac-12 Conference will continue its postseason tournament in Las Vegas without fans starting Thursday. The limited access to events includes all sports, including baseball, softball and spring football games.
Other conference tournaments are also shifting to a fan-free environment, allowing only immediately family members of players and coaches and staff considered essential to the games into arenas, including the Big Ten and Big 12.
—Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban gatherings of more than 250 people in Seattle and surrounding areas to try to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Inslee’s order targeted sports, concerts and cultural events in King County, where Seattle is located, as well as in adjacent Snohomish and Pierce counties. Inslee said Tuesday that the coronavirus could infect as many as 64,000 in the state within eight weeks unless “real action” was taken.
Among those teams affected would be the Seattle Dragons of the XFL, the Seattle Sounders (MLS) and the Seattle Mariners (MLB). The University of Washington is located in Seattle.
—Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine plans to issue an order that would prohibit mass gatherings in the state, and that prompted the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets to announce they will comply, beginning with Thursday night’s home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blue Jackets said the arena will be closed to the general public and that admission will be “limited to home and visiting club personnel, credentialed media and broadcast partners, essential club and arena staff and NHL officials.”
DeWine’s edict will also affect the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers as well as NCAA Tournament games scheduled to be played in the state.
The First Four is scheduled for Dayton on March 17-18 and Cleveland is slated to host first-round games on March 20 and second-round games on March 22. The Mid-American Conference banned general fan attendance from its basketball tourney in Cleveland after DeWine made a recommendation on Tuesday that indoor sporting events be “spectator-free, effective immediately” due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Blue Jackets announced after DeWine’s recommendations that they would allow fans to attend Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Saturday’s contest against the Nashville Predators at Nationwide Arena. But plans changed Wednesday when the suggestions were on the verge of becoming an order.
“Every expert has told us that there is a risk in any kind of mass gathering — the closer you are to other people, the bigger the risk,” DeWine said. “You must ask yourself if going to a large gathering is necessary.”
—Activision Blizzard has canceled live Overwatch League events scheduled through April.
“We are continuing to closely monitor COVID-19 (coronavirus), city-level recommendations and mandates, and all guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the company said in a statement posted to its website.
Earlier, all league homestands in Asia were canceled, and on Tuesday, Paris Eternal’s scheduled homestand next month was called off. Activision Blizzard’s statement said the company hopes to reschedule.
—The remainder of the Houston Rodeo was canceled on Wednesday, less than halfway through the run of the popular annual event. It opened March 3 and was scheduled to close March 22.
“In the interest of public health, the City of Houston and the Houston Health Department have ordered the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to close,” the rodeo organization posted on its website. “The Rodeo will respectfully and dutifully comply with the City’s order.
“The Rodeo is deeply saddened; however, the safety and well-being of our guests and our community is our top priority. ... Having to close early is extremely difficult as guests, volunteers, exhibitors, rodeo athletes and entertainers look forward to the 20 days of the Rodeo each year.”
—Field Level Media