As COVID-19 cases spike once again, will sports face another cancellation? | Marcase

John Marcase
Special to The Town Talk

As we bid adieu to 2021, unfortunately we can’t say the same for COVID-19, which has dominated life across the globe since March 2020.

It appeared as if we might start the new year with life beginning to slowly return to normal thanks to vaccinations and other mitigation procedures. At least normalcy seemed to be returning as far as the sports world was concerned.

Major League Baseball was able to complete its season with few issues. Even the Toronto Blue Jays received permission to return home in late July and play before its fans for the first time in nearly two years.

It was full speed ahead for college football and the NFL.

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Even with the threat of forfeits should a school be hit with an outbreak, none took place at the major college level. Also, the NFL was able to sail through the first three quarters of its season with minimal interruptions.

Just as everyone was beginning to get comfortable, COVID reared its ugly head and is wreaking havoc once again.

For those of us in Louisiana, we are blessed, if you call what we’ve been through blessed. Four COVID surges have resulted in nearly 15,000 deaths and almost 800,000 positive cases. Over the summer, our hospitals didn’t reach their breaking point, but they did reach desperation.

Still, while major parts of the country are surging, Louisiana is seeing only moderate upticks in cases and hospitalizations.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

On the sports scene, the biggest impact of late has been the Saints. Coach Sean Payton tested positive for the second time, causing him to miss New Orleans’ 9-0 win over Tampa Bay last week. Then, the team was down 20 players in Monday’s listless 20-3 loss to Miami. 

Yet, if you look at the sporting landscape across the country, the signs are ominous. The NHL took its Christmas break a few days early to help control spread, and as play resumes this week, it has enacted taxi squads in an effort to help the season reach its scheduled conclusion.

The NFL shuffled its Week 15 schedule due to outbreaks among several teams.

College bowl season has been thrown into upheaval with at least four cancellations. Rutgers went 5-7, but will make its first bowl appearance in seven years after replacing Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl to face Wake Forest.

The ACC is being hit hard as Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College all had to pull out of bowl games.

With the College Football Playoff semifinals set for Friday, you wonder if Alabama, Cincinnati, Michigan or Georgia will be impacted. And what about the winners, who meet on Jan. 10?

The penultimate bowl game this season involves LSU, which meets Kansas State, in Houston on Jan. 4. Will either team make it to then?

Last week, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey changed the guidelines for basketball season in an attempt to prevent forfeits. The minimum criteria for games to proceed is seven healthy scholarship players and one healthy coach. Kentucky had back-to-back games impacted by COVID, including its annual meeting with rival Louisville. Vanderbilt lost a game with Stanford.

As the omicron surge continues, how many more events will be postponed or canceled? The Louisiana High School Athletic Association was able to complete its fall season, crowning state champions in football, cross country and swimming. What will happen with soccer, basketball and the spring sports, which were all canceled two years ago?

How will the NFL playoffs fare? March Madness? Stanley Cup playoffs?

The more COVID becomes an everyday companion in our lives, the more we have to live in a new normal, and that includes the sporting world, no matter how desperately we need the distraction sports brings to our lives.

John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.