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EDITORIAL: Return of sports coming, but it must be done cautiously, likely without fans

York Dispatch
  • Sports are slowly starting to return to our national landscape.
  • The WNBA and the NFL have held virtual drafts.
  • A sprint-car race was held in South Dakota, with an area driver earning the win.
  • Pennsylvania's golf courses are set to reopen on Friday.
Golfers enjoy a day on the links at Heritage Hills Golf Club on Wednesday, March 18. A few days later, Pennsylvania golf courses were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state's golf courses will reopen on Friday, May. 1. John A. Pavoncello photo

Sports addicts are going through an epic case of withdrawal.

For six weeks now, the world’s athletic calendar has been practically barren, wiped out by the cononavirus pandemic.

Finally, however, sports fans are beginning to see a glimmer of hope that our games, races and tournaments may soon resume.

The WNBA and NFL recently held virtual drafts, and, not surprisingly, both received record ratings. That’s just an indicator of the unquenchable thirst in this nation for any sports-related activity.

Pennsylvania driver travels halfway across country to earn sprint win in front of no fans

Then, this past Saturday night, there was actual sprint-car racing in South Dakota, and a driver from central Pennsylvania made the nearly 1,200-mile drive and came home victorious, and $6,000 richer.

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Fortunately, South Dakota track officials eventually backed off an earlier plan to hold the race in front of 700 fans. Yes, the track capacity was far higher, and fans were supposedly going to observe proper social distancing, but cooler heads finally prevailed. After discussions with health officials, the race was held without fans.

The new normal: That, undoubtedly, will be the new normal for sports action for at least several months, likely longer. It’s also the smart thing to do. Rushing from no games at all to games at packed facilities would be a recipe for a COVID-19 disaster. A more cautious, measured approach is called for.

Fortunately, most folks who run our sports organizations seem to understand that. They are brainstorming through various scenarios that will allow our athletes to return to competition. Those ideas, however, are also being passed by health officials to see if they are feasible and safe.

That’s as it should be. Sports, after all, are fun and games. They are definitely not essential.

Big business: That being said, sports in this nation are also a multi-billion-dollar business that is responsible for creating millions of jobs. The longer they sit idle, the more money is being lost and the more jobs are being lost, possibly permanently.

So, the sports industry must, and will, reboot. That process has already started and it will continue, but it must be done prudently. 

Golfing, some other outdoor activities to be allowed in Pennsylvania starting Friday, May 1

That's what happened on Monday, when Pennsylvania announced that state golf courses may reopen starting Friday, provided proper precautions are taken. Some other new outdoor activities will also be permitted starting Friday. Fishing, hunting, hiking, biking and running had previously been approved in Pennsylvania.

NBA training facilities might reopen May 8. NASCAR is looking at a possible mid-May return, while the PGA Tour is aiming for mid-June, but it’s almost certain that neither sport will allow fans, at least for a while.

Major League Baseball is investigating the possibility of games being played at southern hubs in Arizona, Texas and Florida, but again without fans.

Coronavirus is in charge: Of course, those are mostly tentative plans or ideas. The coronavirus, ultimately, is in charge now and it may have other plans. If definitely has its own schedule. It’s very possible that some sports could begin again, only to be stopped again by a new coronavirus outbreak.

That is the nature of our new normal.

The return to packed facilities with no regard to social distancing may be at least a year away, when a vaccine hopefully emerges.

Until then, sports fans will have to be satisfied with a slow and cautious return of their favorite events, while also bracing for possible future stoppages.

Patience needed: It's also important to remember that, under pandemic conditions, not all sports are created equal. Some will be able to adapt to the new environment with more agility and return more quickly.

Patience will be required. The sports world won’t go from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds. More like a matter of months, or even years.

Still, sports with no fans in attendance is better than no sports at all. During this crisis, we desperately need all the distractions we can get.