Virus disrupts sports world

Should USF earn a bid to the WNIT, the Yuengling Center (above) will be without fans, as the
tournament announced it will be closed to general fans amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many other leagues and tournaments have altered their plans as well. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

The novel coronavirus continues to affect the U.S. in unprecedented ways, and Wednesday might have been the most unprecedented — so far. Especially when it comes to the sports world.

The biggest news of the day by far regarded basketball: The men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments, as well as the men’s and women’s NIT, will be played without fans in attendance. The first two rounds of the men’s NCAA Tournament is scheduled to be played at Amalie Arena, with USF serving as the host institution.

Additionally, the College Basketball Invitational, which the USF men won last season, announced it was entirely canceling its third-tier tournament.

The AAC men’s basketball tournament, where USF will play UCF on Thursday, will also be closed to fans, according to USA Today’s Dan Wolken. It joins the MAC, ACC, Big West, Big 12, Big Ten and Southland Conference in closing its doors.

This comes the day after the Ivy League announced it was canceling its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. It also announced Wednesday that it was canceling the remainder of its spring sports, effective immediately.

Several professional teams and leagues have also made adjustments. The NBA’s owners decided Wednesday to continue playing its season with no fans in its arenas, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The decision was expected to be approved by Commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday, however the league suspended its season late Wednesday night after a Utah Jazz player  — reportedly center Rudy Gobert — tested presumptive positive for the virus, according to ESPN.

The NBA’s suspension comes the same day the Golden State Warriors announced they would play at least their next two home games (Thursday and March 25) in front of no fans at Chase Center after San Francisco’s government issued a ban on gatherings of 1,000 or more people.

Thus far, only two NHL teams have announced changes. The San Jose Sharks will play in front of an empty SAP Center for, at a minimum, their next three home games (through March 29) after Santa Clara County, California, banned crowds of 1,000 or more people Monday. Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets will play home games with no fans starting with Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL issued a statement late Wednesday night acknowledging its awareness of the NBA’s suspension, but decided not to suspend its games at the time.

Three teams from Seattle, a city which has been hit especially hard by COVID-19, the technical name for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are affected as well. Major League Soccer’s Sounders postponed their March 21 match, the XFL’s Dragons will play their game Sunday with no fans, while MLB’s Mariners will play their first two series of the season somewhere other than T-Mobile Park after Washington state issued a ban on gatherings of 250 or more people Tuesday.

Closer to home, USF on Wednesday, along with the 11 other public universities in Florida, instructed all classes to be shifted online, effective after spring break, and for students not to return to campus for at least two weeks afterward. No announcement was made regarding the future of USF Athletics events, though softball interim coach Jessica Moore said that she expected to know more either late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. The next scheduled event is a women’s tennis home match Thursday afternoon.

While there’s no word on what will happen just yet, USF and its teams have been proactive.

“Yeah, we’ve definitely talked about it,” football coach Jeff Scott said Tuesday. “No. 1: Just doing the best job that we can with great hygiene …  everybody cleaning their area. We’ll do some measures once the guys leave to really go wipe down everything, probably even more than we’ve done in the past.”

Scott also said that he asked his team if anyone was planning on leaving the country during spring break, and no one said they were.

The Bulls, who began spring practice Tuesday before a planned week off for spring break, will practice Thursday as scheduled, though will not have their previously scheduled media availability. It’s not yet known if practice will resume after spring break, nor is the status of April 18’s spring game. Fellow AAC member Cincinnati on Tuesday canceled its spring game, which was scheduled for April 10.

The message of hygiene wasn’t just limited to football.

“We just had our entire locker room disinfected yesterday,” baseball coach Billy Mohl said Tuesday. “I’m constantly on the guys about washing their hands, using the hand sanitizer. … But we’re monitoring it and our administration’s done a great job with it.”

But there’s also the balance of keeping young athletes calm, even in the face of what is now being called a global pandemic.

“Yeah, it is a balance,” Moore said. “There’s a lot of rumors, there’s a lot of buzz going around the world about it. Just trying to shoot them as much information as we can in terms of what’s actually happening and why this is super important, and what can happen from all of this.”

Moore’s team is taking the threat seriously, though.

“Just even as a team, eliminating handshakes and high fives as much as we can,” Moore said. “As athletes, sometimes it just happens, but we’ve been doing our best as a coaching staff to lead them in the direction of, ‘Look, let’s make sure we’re not exposing people.’ You just never know.”

Further from home, long-time USF softball coach Ken Eriksen is on leave with Team USA as it trains for the Tokyo Olympics — which is in serious jeopardy. While Moore hasn’t spoken to Eriksen regarding the coronavirus, she knows how he’s likely approaching it.

“Knowing Ken, he’s just taking it one day at a time,” Moore said. “I’m sure right now he’s worried about his next practice or next game, and he’ll continue to take his situation as it comes.

“We can’t predict the future, and so, we can mill around and worry about it and suspect what they’re going to do, but I think Ken’s probably doing a good job and just taking it day by day, and he’s ready for his next practice.”