PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – JUNE 20
By Leo Haggerty
First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.
Ok, it’s time for me to deal with the 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to sports as we know it in the United States. That happens to be what if the pandemic forces a complete shutdown of all sports, both professional as well as college, until September of 2021 or longer?
Obviously, no other correspondent has even broached this subject and that’s a sad statement on The Fourth Estate. I’m hoping that this oversight is due to the fact that no one wants to be the purveyor of bad news and, quite honestly, the results will be catastrophic if this comes to fruition.
So, I am going to pick up the torch and give you my opinion on what I believe the landscape of sports in America will look like if none occur until late summer of 2021. I am doing this because, quite frankly, it just needs to be done. People need to know what is a reasonable expectation, albeit a negative one, of what a complete shutdown of team sports will resemble.
Now, before I start pontificating, let me remind you that I always look at the glass half-empty and not half-full. I will lean toward the worst-case scenario because, if a situation happens to turn out better than I predicted, I am truly a happy camper.
With all that being said, let me give you my opinion on what will probably take place. First, let me deal with college and universities because they will be the most effected by a Covid-19 shutdown of sports.
Again, if there are no collegiate sports until September of 2021, this would be the death knell for intercollegiate athletics as we know it for many sports. First, let me deal with the larger institutions of higher learning.
As you know, or have been made aware of this in the last couple of months, football drives the economic engine of college athletic budgets at the Division I level especially in the Power Five conferences. The revenue generated by football not only covers their expenses, but a multitude of other intercollegiate sports, especially those that are designated to be non-revenue.
With no football money coming into the athletic budget for a full year, I expect all sports except for men’s and women’s basketball and another women’s sport to be designed to try and stay in compliance with Title IX to be the designated survivors. If it cancellation goes longer, football may, and I emphasize may, be the only one to return and that’s iffy at best.
The only exception to this may, and I stress the term may, will be the major and mid-major school that do not have a football program. Without the drain of an expensive football program that is now producing no revenue, those non-football programs have a better chance of surviving the year.
Now, let’s look at the rest of the National Collegiate Athletic Association affiliate schools. With no sports for a year, and for the spring sports it would be two seasons, intercollegiate sports will vanish completely. Sadly, schools below the Division ! level will not be able to sustain that loss of revenue.
Adding to that dilemma, that would mean no March Madness revenue for the NCAA for two consecutive seasons. That will be a mortal wound to the smaller schools athletic programs that they will not be able to recover.
Now, let me turn to the professional areas. This will be a little better but not much.
Of the four major sports in the USA, I expect all to survive. The problem is that I believe some of the franchise will fold.
The National Football League has the best chance of emerging from the pandemic with all its teams intact. That’s because the league will do everything in its power to keep all 32 teams afloat for the reason of scheduling and competitive balance along with television revenue.
The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League may lose some of their franchises and here’s why. A great deal of their revenues is generated from fan attendance and, not having that source of funding, that may force more than one team in both the NBA and the NHL to cease to exist.
Now, to Major League Baseball. This would mean that the Big Leagues will have gone two full seasons without playing a game.
Expect to see multiple franchises fold, or at best be sold, because those teams live and die on fan attendance and television money. With that evaporating for two years, at least three franchises and possibly more, will cease to exist.
This is painful for me to even suggest. Still, my job is to profess what I believe, after examining all the facts, is to bring thought-provoking discussion to the forefront even if it’s gloom-and-doom.
Now, if the pandemic forces any of the pro leagues to cancel past September of 2021, all bets are off. None of them may be able to survive that loss of revenue and that’s a damn shame but it’s the reality of the time.
Here’s another problem for the professional leagues. By not playing for a full season, it may have severe ramifications on the collective bargaining agreements of those specific leagues. That will be the Pandora’s Box that neither the owners nor the players want to have opened.
Well, there you have it. Not a real positive column and I hope it never happens. Still, fans need to be made aware of what could be coming down the pike even if the light at the end of the tunnel is the train coming to run you over..
Ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. From a sports standpoint, it’s not the Apocalypse but darned close.
Let’s hope that the efforts to eradicate the coronavirus are successful so this doesn’t become a reality. If it does, heaven help sports because it may be a thing of the past.