The Day the Sports World Stood Still; Semi-Normalcy Returns; No Respect; Stanford/Cal Schedules
A year ago this Friday, March 12, 2020, is a day every sports fan in America would like to forget.
That was the day the sports world virtually closed down in response to the escalating coronavirus pandemic.
It was the day March Madness became March Sadness, when the NCAA cancelled the Men's and Women's 2020 Basketball Tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships.
The day the NBA suspended its season. The day Major League Baseball cancelled the remainder of its Spring Training schedule and announced that the start of the 2020 regular season would be delayed at least two weeks.
Of course, that original two week delay turned into three months, before an agreement was finally reached to play a truncated 60-game season.
Twelve days later another domino fell when the 2020 Olympics were postponed.
Then college football went back and forth in a disgraceful example of hypocrisy and greed, before ultimately deciding to play a poor excuse for a season marked by game cancellations and compromised player safety.
We’re not out of the woods yet, and a few ambitious governors or new variants may usher in another big wave of cases, but the good news is that there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. The sun is starting to peek through the clouds, and the 12-month nightmare that American sports fans have endured may finally be coming to an end.
March Madness is set to return next week. Baseball is playing exhibition games and scheduled to open the season on April 1.
The NBA is halfway through a season that has been reasonably smooth. And college football is anticipating a full season this fall.
Still, there will be compromises. Very few of us have attended a game in the last 12 months, and the logistics of returning fans to stadiums are still being figured out.
Men’s March Madness will be played in a bubble in Indianapolis, while the women will play in San Antonio. The men’s tournament will allow a limited number of fans to attend all rounds, up to 25% of the respective venue’s capacity.
The women’s rules are a little different. Each team will be permitted to invite approximately 200 family and friends to attend the early rounds, while the Sweet Sixteen through the Final Four will be open to about 17% of arena capacity.
Baseball attendance will reflect local health conditions and restrictions. The Giants, for example, have been cleared to sell 20% of the seats at Oracle Park.
All this is based, of course, on expectations that the current trends of vaccinations, declining COVID cases and deaths will continue apace.
So get your shots, follow CDC guidelines, and celebrate the return to semi-normalcy.
No Respect: The early rounds of the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament were televised on the Pac-12 Network, which reaches about 17 million viewers. The final, between nationally No 4 ranked Stanford and a No. 9 UCLA team that had handed the Cardinal one of its only two losses earlier in the year, was scheduled for ESPN2, which has about 86 million subscribers.
Only problem was the lead-in Big 12 Wrestling Championship, which probably attracted about two dozen viewers, went long. Rather than cut out of the match between wrestlers from Oklahoma State and Wyoming, the network delayed the start of the Pac-12 championship game by 15 minutes and then moved it to ESPN News.
The game didn’t switch back to ESPN2 until midway in the second quarter, after a delay of almost 50 minutes.
This wasn’t the first time ESPN dissed the Pac-12. During the 2019 football season ESPN moved the broadcast of a key matchup between Washington and Stanford to ESPN News to finish a truck race.
Can the conference's status fall any lower? Hopefully, a new commissioner will provide Pac-12 teams with the exposure and the resources they need to regain prominence, both in the win column and on the airwaves.
Stanford/Cal 2021 Football Schedules: The Pac-12 announced the 2021 football schedule last week. Stanford is the only school in the country that will play all Power Five opponents during the 2021 schedule. No Samford or Little Sisters of the Poor. A Power Five opponent every week.
The last school to walk this gauntlet was USC in 2011. The Trojans, in fact, have done it five times. The only other team to do it was Florida State in 2002 and ’03, and now Stanford.
To make matters worse, the Cardinal is scheduled to play its first three games away from home, beginning with the neutral-site Allstate Kickoff Classic in Arlington, Texas, against Kansas State on Sept. 4. The following week, Stanford will open Pac-12 play at USC before a road non-conference game at Vanderbilt. The other non-con is with Notre Dame in the season finale.
Stanford's home opener is scheduled for Sept. 25 at UCLA. Other games in a very attractive home schedule include Oregon, Washington, Utah, Cal and Notre Dame. Unfortunately, Stanford fans have been practicing social distancing for years, so limiting attendance to 20% of capacity would seem like business as usual.
Cal, meanwhile, will face TCU, Nevada and Sacramento State in non-conference play. The Bears’ home schedule is not going to get anyone excited, with the aforementioned Nevada and Sac State, plus Washington State, Colorado Oregon State and (thankfully) USC.
Class Act: Speaking of college football, Stanford head coach David Shaw manned a broom and served as the floor sweeper in a Cardinal basketball game a few weeks ago. Somehow I have a hard time visualizing Nick Saban doing that.