Well, this kind of stinks.
About the time the NCAA basketball tournament begins, the regular seasons of the NBA and NHL wind down and spring training kicks off for Major League Baseball, all of that disappears, at least temporarily, as fears of the spread of COVID-19 cause every major sport to delay or outright cancel its competition for the season.
The Minnesota State High School League canceled the state basketball tournaments and delayed spring activities, then smaller college conference like the MIAC canceled all of its spring sports seasons outright.
As a fan or spectator, if you need a sports fix, you are kind of out of luck, unless you happen to count pro wrestling (which I do not).
There is no doubt this is a rather unusual territory for the world of major sports, but quite honestly, there have been a few interesting instances where a complete shift from the norm - similar to the current situation - was required.
During the “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918-1919, pro sports had to make some changes. The most interesting one, in my opinion, came during the Stanley Cup finals.
The Montreal Canadiens were facing the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association for the chance to hoist the cup. After five games, the series was tied 2-2-1 (they actually allowed draws in postseason play back then). With a sixth and final game planned for April 1, the Canadiens manager George Kennedy called Seattle coach Pete Muldoon to say five of his athletes were too sick to compete, and his team was prepared to forfeit. One of Montreal’s players, Joe Hall, died four days later.
Muldoon, however, refused to accept Montreal’s forfeit. Therefore, the rest of the series was canceled and no champion was crowned.
Since cup winners have their name etched on the trophy, there is a more open spot on the Stanley Cup that simply reads: “1919 - Montreal Canadiens - Seattle Metropolitans - Series Not Completed.”
Fortunately for Major League Baseball, the season was mostly over by the time the Spanish Flu hit too hard, but public health declined enough for league officials to ban the “spitball” from being thrown. Yes, spitballs were a thing that was actually used in professional baseball - apparently it could alter the wind resistance of the ball just enough to give a fastball a bit of a knuckleball-type action.
Other action pertaining to the illness included the cancellation of college football games and, in some cases, whole seasons were cut short. Even legendary boxer Jack Dempsey had one of his fights canceled.
Pro sports scrambling isn't reserved just for contagious illnesses, although the mass delays and cancellations may be. Teams and leagues had to scramble a bit during World War II, when a large number of sports legends - including Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Joe Louis and Stan Musial - served overseas, leading teams to dig for new talent in a rather thin pool of young men still stateside.
In the NFL, an immense chunk of the talent - roughly 600 athletes - left to serve in the war. Because of this, the Cleveland Rams (now playing in Los Angeles) suspended operations for one year.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers merged for the 1943 season (unofficially known as the “Steagles”) in an effort to stay afloat, while other professional football leagues at the time suspended operations. The "Steagles" finished the season with a record of 5-4-1.
There is no doubt, however, that major sports are much more prominent than they were 75-100 years ago, and the recent cancellations affect millions more people than the things mentioned in this piece ever did, but similar things have happened before, and they were eventually sorted out.
Sports will come back, and they will be just like before.
For now, stay safe.