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We’re now living in a country with no sports

Ryan Stieg

What would our country be like without sports?

It’s a question I’ve pondered before and I’ve written about, but until this week, I honestly didn’t think it would be possible.

Sure, there have been some incidents that affected the sporting world. I remember after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, how Major League Baseball games were postponed and the World Series got shoved into November for the first time.

I also remember when Super Bowl XXXVI (36) was pushed back into February for the first time. Still though, eventually things got back on track, not only for sports, but our country as a whole.

However, this time is a different story. Unlike war or a national tragedy, it’s a disease that’s causing the problem. Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, professional and amateur sports in America have almost completely stopped.

The NBA suspended its season, and rightfully so, after the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus. Interestingly enough, that same player made light of the whole situation a couple days before by touching every microphone at a press conference.

One of his teammates, all-star Donovan Mitchell, then tested positive later. I imagine team chemistry isn’t exactly great in Salt Lake City right now.

As you all know by now, the NBA wasn’t alone in shutting down. The NHL has now suspended its season for who knows how long, MLB has ended spring training and delayed the start of its regular season at least two weeks and Major League Soccer has postponed its games for 30 days.

This all happened in the span of a day and it was bewildering. I went to bed Wednesday night in a state of disbelief and I didn’t think it could get any worse, but it did.

That’s because on Thursday, it seems like everyone hit the panic button.

Before that day, various college basketball and hockey conferences thought about just restricting fan access to their games and basically having teams hold playoff games in virtually empty arenas with only the media and athletic personnel there to witness it.

It would’ve sucked the atmosphere out of these arenas and the NCAA championship games would feel like a morgue for everybody there. But at least a winner would be crowned.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association also decided on Thursday it would adopt that same policy, which although unfortunate, was the right idea.

Then Thursday continued and more dominoes fell. By early afternoon, college basketball and hockey conferences started canceling their tournaments altogether. Some of those teams were scheduled to play that day or were traveling to their games this weekend.

In the blink of an eye, their seasons came to an end. Not because of a buzzer-beating shot or an overtime goal, but because of a decision by league officials. It hurt watching this as teams like the Michigan Tech hockey program, whose only shot at making the NCAA tournament was by winning the conference playoffs, had to turn their bus around and travel back to the Upper Peninsula without even getting a chance to compete.

Even the most vapid Northern Michigan University fan probably had to admit that wasn’t a pleasant thought. After all, what if the NMU were in that situation? Had Northern beaten the Huskies last weekend, the Wildcats be on their way to Bemidji, Minnesota, for the WCHA semifinals and it’d be painful to reverse course just like Tech was forced to do.

For many of us, the effect didn’t truly hit home until late Thursday when the MHSAA and NCAA had collectively freaked out. After simply restricting fan access, the MHSAA decided to stop the winter postseason tournaments, at least for now.

They used the term “pause,” which means there’s still a slim hope that they might resume, but realistically, everything has come to an abrupt end, a devastating thing to read and hear. There were so many local U.P. teams that had a chance to achieve season-long and even career-long goals in the next couple of weeks, but chances are, they never will.

The Marquette Redmen hockey team had an amazing season and a legitimate shot of winning its first state title since 2008 this weekend, but probably not anymore. The Westwood, Baraga and L’Anse girls basketball teams, the first two each making the state quarterfinals last year, were going to play in their respective regional finals Thursday.

Now, they’re seasons are almost certainly done. Players like the Patriots’ Madi Koski and Tessa Leece, who have wowed fans around Marquette County the past couple of seasons, probably have had their careers end.

Not in game action against Charlevoix, but because the MHSAA panicked. It wasn’t just girls teams, either. The Negaunee and Munising boys basketball squads, both at 20-2, were going to face off Friday night in the district final. That’s highly doubtful now.

Iron Mountain, which got robbed of a state title last season, was primed to get the championship that was taken from them, and they’ll probably never get that chance.

All of these kids went from having to play in empty arenas to being able to do nothing in a matter of hours all because the powers-that-be decided that was the wisest action.

Then the NCAA decided to do what it does — make controversy. With conferences canceling their tournaments, the basketball and men’s hockey tournaments were in jeopardy. The NCAA tried to hold off as long as it could, but eventually canceled both tourneys.

So no Frozen Four in Detroit, no men’s Final Four in Atlanta, no women’s Final Four in New Orleans. We’ll never know if North Dakota could hoist its ninth national hockey title at Little Caesar’s Arena, tying the University of Michigan’s record.

Or what upsets would occur during the always crazy men’s basketball tournament. Or if entertaining women’s basketball teams like Oregon could run the table. None of that will occur and that’s hard to take.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the NCAA went even further and canceled all the spring sports seasons as well, including the College World Series, Women’s College World Series and the Track and Field Championships in June.

Yep, even though the conference tournaments don’t start until May, the organization jumped the gun and decided to cut them off, too. I can understand basketball and hockey getting let go as they’re either in progress or about to occur, but to just stop something that won’t start for a couple months just seems extreme.

Now for at least a month, we won’t really have sports in this country, and as a sportswriter I’m not sure what to do with myself right now.

Things have gone so insanely downhill in just a matter of days and all we’re left with is questions. What happens now? How long will this last? Will any of this get back to normal?

It will, eventually. The pro leagues will return fairly soon, so we’ll have the NBA, NHL and MLB back. However, for the amateurs, their careers are probably over.

High school and college seniors will most likely graduate with no true end to their careers, just thoughts of what might’ve been.

My heart bleeds for them. Thursday was a devastating day for many of us in sports, but especially for them.

What would our country be like without sports? We’re about to find out and it’s going to be a weird feeling.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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