As the self-proclaimed biggest sports fan in the universe, the coronavirus has broken my heart. Not only has it changed my last semester of college, which is now online only, but it has destroyed my primary source of entertainment: watching and sometimes gambling on sports. The national pandemic has caused the NBA to stop its season for the foreseeable, the NCAA basketball tournament to cancel for the first time in history, MLB opening day to be delayed and all spring college sports to be canceled.
When the situation first started developing, spring college sports like baseball at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced that only immediate family members would be allowed to attend games. When I caught up with Nebraska baseball’s center fielder, Joe Acker, about the situation, he was extremely upset.
“It’s my senior season, and I’m going to play in an empty Haymarket?,” he said. “Also, how are college baseball teams going to make money? That’s [attendance] the only way teams make money in college baseball.”
I didn’t have any answers for Acker, but it would soon be decided that the entire season would be canceled, and college baseball teams wouldn’t be alone in figuring out how to make money. With all major sports shut down, employees of the arenas and stadiums where the games take place are out of jobs, and local business owners who can’t operate on a day-to-day basis are struggling to keep their businesses afloat due to the social distancing rules in place.
Sports aren’t the only thing being destroyed during this time.
Once the news broke of the college baseball season being canceled, I reached out to Acker again to tell him that I was sorry and to ask him what he was going to do moving forward.
“I really don’t know, man. This just ruins my last year as a Husker, and if somehow I get an extra year of eligibility, I’ll be screwing guys behind me that have worked hard for their opportunity,” Acker said. “It just really sucks that I probably took my last swing in a real baseball game without even knowing it.”
However, the NCAA has since made some announcements granting student-athletes in spring sports a fifth year of eligibility. While this decision gives deserving student-athletes like Acker a chance to end their career on their own terms, it is going to create chaos on rosters with a new class of players coming in and almost no one going out.
Normally, Division I baseball programs are allowed 35 players with 11.7 athletic scholarships to distribute to players. Next season, seniors who decide to return will be allowed to receive athletic aid up to what they were receiving or less, without it counting toward the 11.7 scholarships normally allowed. I think this is a really good decision to help make up for so many athletes’ lost seasons, but like Acker said, it is going to cause many hardworking athletes to have to wait longer for their chance to play. Even with these new rules in place, Acker is still unsure of his future as a college baseball player.
With March Madness and spring college athletics destroyed, talks about the future of fall sports season have started as well. College football teams canceled spring practices and no one knows when sports will be able to resume at all. To really see how this is affecting college football players, I reached out to Notre Dame freshman Xavier Watts who was on campus this spring as an early enrollee.
“It really sucked having to leave South Bend, because I’m already in love with the grind and just want to get better so I’m ready to play,” Watts said. “I was also just starting to really get to know a lot of my teammates, so it definitely sucks.”
Enrolling early is an opportunity for freshman to get acclimated in college classrooms and get a head-start in practices. The coronavirus has completely eliminated this for Watts and many other first-semester college athletes. Still, Watts is finding ways to continue to do things.
“I still have classes I’m doing online from home, and I’m working out every day in the gym and on the football field, plus I get to see my family every day again, so it’s not all that bad,” Watts said.
Part of working out on the field has been done with Watts’ former teammate and Central Missouri quarterback commit, Reid Burke. Burke wasn’t an early enrollee, and according to him, his life hasn’t changed much since all of this began.
“The gym I go to is still open, so I’m still able to lift every day, and I’ve been throwing,” Burke said.
Burke is one of the lucky ones because his preparation for his new team hasn’t changed and neither has his social life.
“I’ve been going out less and stuff, but I still see my family and the same friends I usually would all the time, and it hasn’t affected my college football prep too much,” Burke said.
Throughout the country, serious issues are happening because of this global pandemic. To everyone out there, stay safe, hold your loved ones tight and do whatever you can to stop the spread of this virus. There are sports to play.