When America woke up on March 11, the only major sporting event affected by the COVID-19 pandemic was the Ivy League Tournament, which had been cancelled a day earlier. In fact, the pandemic wasn't even yet a pandemic - the World Health Organization did not make that declaration until that very day.
By the time the sun set the next day, the NBA and NHL had suspended their seasons, Major League Baseball had delayed the start of its season by at least two weeks, and the NCAA Tournament - along with all other collegiate championships - was cancelled outright. Sports were shut down. For the foreseeable future, no games would be played, anywhere. There truly was no way of telling what the path forward would be. A month later, the path is perhaps just as unclear.
On March 11, the day the NBA suspended its season amidst an unforgettably bizarre scene at Chesapeake Bay Arena in Oklahoma City, the United States surpassed 1,000 Coronavirus cases. As of writing on Thursday, there have been more than 460,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. That figure sounds troubling, and the death toll certainly is sobering; however, the decision to suspend sports was made because of what might happen, rather than what was happening. An outbreak of even greater magnitude was feared, and the good news one month later is that the growth of new cases per day has stabilized, having stayed between 25,000-35,000 each day this month.
You never want to use the word 'contained' too early, but the first step to getting the number of cases down is stopping exponential growth, and it appears we have at least done that.
So, where does that leave sports? Well, right now, nowhere. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said on Monday that the NBA won't even deliberate regarding a return to play until May 1. Reports have given me the impression that the NHL has been more active in seeking ways to resume the season in the summer than the NBA, but both leagues remain stalled one month later.
The first real glimmer of hope for sports, however, came earlier this week, when ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Major League Baseball was looking closely at a plan that would have the season start or be played entirely at spring training sites in Arizona, where players and staff would be kept isolated and ballparks kept otherwise empty. Some expressed skepticism, of course, but the reaction from players on social media seemed mostly (though not entirely) positive, and the report did state that top health officials were optimistic about the plan.
It's easy to feel doubt regarding the practicality of such a plan here in early April. Barring a surprise, America is currently at the COVID-19 plateau. Even so, this plan wouldn't even be enacted for at least another month, and we have seen how quickly developments can unfold in this pandemic. If cases are dramatically down in mid-May and rapid testing is available (ESPN's report states rapid testing is a requirement for a return to play but MLB expects it by early May), we're looking at a totally different situation.
The NFL was in an envious position when this pandemic took the sports world by storm a month ago, and Roger Goodell continues to make the most of it. Free agency happened as scheduled - I was skeptical up until the day the tampering period opened - and the NFL Draft will take place as scheduled as well, albeit in an entirely virtual format.
If the summer brings an end to the madness, the NFL will be able to play games on the field as if nothing ever happened, with or without a crowd. Regardless, getting free agency and the draft out of the way as planned is a logistical success as the NBA and NHL potentially face major changes to their offseason calendar. Once the draft passes, the NFL will be in a waiting game as it waits to see whether an on-time start to training camp is feasible.
Elsewhere in the sports world, all four of golf's majors have been impacted by COVID-19. Fortunately, only one was called off outright - the British Open. The Masters, which would be must-see TV right now under normal circumstances, is set to be played in November, while the PGA Championship was pushed from May to August, and the U.S. Open was moved from June to September.
Wimbledon, tennis' most recognizable of four grand slam events, was cancelled for the first time since World War II, while the French Open, which was set to begin in late May, has been pushed to September.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were formally postponed to 2021, with a start date set for July 23, 2021 - 364 days after the original opening ceremony was planned.
It's promising just to see dates attached to postponed events, even if they're far into the future. While for most this is simply a waiting game, it's the end of a dream for some. The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, perhaps the most crushing blow to American sports fans in those 24 hours of chaos, ended the historic seasons of underdogs such as Dayton and San Diego State while crushing Cinderella runs before any could even get off the ground.
For better or for worse, some things will change once this passes. Even just a one-week hiatus after 9/11 proved to the NFL that a February Super Bowl was feasible, and the change eventually stuck. This pandemic will cause more seismic change in the short-term for sports - it already has - and it will both open a window for leagues to make major changes and introduce leagues to new ideas that could stick.
As fans, it's okay to lament what we're losing as a result of this pandemic. It's okay to miss everything sports adds to our lives while also believing in the measures that protect people from the virus; don't let anyone pretend it's a choice between one or the other.
The last month has felt like an eternity. Plenty has changed, and plenty will continue to change. A month from now, the outlook may be dramatically different, and hope just might return as quickly as it disappeared.