The only thing 2020 will be remembered for is how the coronavirus affected everyone and everything.
The sports world in North America came to a complete halt because of the pandemic in March. Before Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the illness, the Golden State Warriors were already making plans to host games without fans at the Chase Center before the NBA was shut down.
On March 11, things got real. The NBA suspended its entire season after Gobert tested positive. The Jazz were going to play the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Chesapeake Energy Arena when the game was canceled due to the positive test.
It wasn’t even 24 hours after the cancelation when leagues began to take extensive precautionary measures to mitigate the potential spread of the virus as reported cases and deaths began to pick up.
MLB canceled the rest of its spring training games, the NHL and MLS put a pause on their regular seasons, college sports, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, were canceled and the Olympics were postponed to 2021.
Here’s a brief look at how each major North American sport was affected this year.
While the major professional leagues were getting the praise for pulling off a season, the National Women’s Soccer League completed the bubble in Utah and had a championship before anyone else. The 23-game tournament kicked off in June, and though one team had to miss the entire tournament because of an outbreak, the league didn’t really have any issues getting things kicked off and played a short schedule in the fall.
The NFL had to adjust a bit because of the pandemic but because everything started going downhill in March, the league didn’t have to push the start of its season back as medical professionals and league executives started to formulate a plan on how to have a season.
The NFL Draft was conducted virtually for the first time ever. Practices and training camp were mostly done via video conference call as the health and safety protocols were worked on. Preseason and the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies were canceled. But games were not lost.
Teams have dealt with several outbreaks and other organizations needed to be disciplined for not properly following the rules put into place. The NFL followed state rules in regards to allowing fans in stadiums. There have been fans present in some NFL stadiums this season
The league’s season is nearing the finish line.
MLB was forced to play an abbreviated season because of the coronavirus pandemic and the long negotiations between the league and the players’ union. But there was a first pitch, thrown by Dr. Anthony Fauci, and there was a World Series.
The league was forced to improvise on some things – like a universal DH, expanded playoffs, a mostly regional schedule for teams and neutral sites for league championship series and the World Series. Some games were forced to be canceled or moved because of outbreaks, but it didn’t have a lasting effect on playoff positioning as some might have thought.
Spring training for 2021 is expected to start on time.
The NBA was the first league to hit pause on its regular season and it took a while for it to get back to the court. When it did, the league only allowed a few of the top teams in the bubble in Disney World and played a few games to get going before the playoffs.
The league also allowed players to speak out on social injustices in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the Jacob Blake shooting. The NBA put Black Lives Matter on its court and allowed players to kneel during the national anthem without repercussion. The league also allowed players to wear a social justice message on the back of their jerseys.
The NBA got through the season and the playoffs without having any canceled games because of the coronavirus. The league postponed games after players protested the police-involved shooting of Blake in Wisconsin. The movement trickled down to the WNBA and MLB.
The WNBA played its entire regular season in a bubble in Florida. The WNBA had some issues with coronavirus and had some players opt out of the season over fears of the virus. But it didn’t force the league to cancel the season.
The league also took on social justice initiatives throughout the season. The league created the WNBA/WNBPA Social Justice Council and launched The Justice Movement to “be a driving force of necessary and continuing conversations about race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and gun control amongst other important societal issues.”
Out of all the professional sports leagues in North America, the WNBA has been the leader in raising awareness for social justice.
There was almost a college football season without two of the five major conferences playing. The ACC, Big 12 and SEC were all set to play while the Big Ten and Pac-12 were initially not going to have a season. When things looked relatively OK for the three former conferences, the latter conferences decided to play. The coronavirus pandemic definitely affected the season when it comes down to it but games were played and the season is nearing the finish line.
The NHL took its bubble into Canada, and with strict coronavirus guidelines the league was able to have a round-robin playoff tournament and the actual playoffs, ending with the Stanley Cup in September. The league didn’t report one coronavirus case, creating hub cities to host its playoff games. The league was criticized for coming back to play too early but managed to have its season anyway.
“The gauntlet that you have to run to hoist this trophy is unbelievable and even more unbelievable this year,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in September. “These guys have been away from home for more than two months. This has been the ultimate team effort. This Stanley Cup run will go down in record books as perhaps the hardest run of all-time.”
MLS returned to play with the “MLS is Back” Tournament in July after the season was shut down in March when it was through a few games. The league returned in a bubble at Disney World but it didn’t start out exactly great. FC Dallas and Nashville SC were forced to be left behind after their coronavirus outbreaks.
The league still got through 51 matches with 24 of the 26 teams playing matches and the Portland Timbers ended the tournament as champions. MLS also had a season in the fall.
Golf was one of the first major individual sports to return to play. The PGA Tour rolled with the punches when it came to golfers testing positive for the coronavirus. Several players were forced to skip tournaments while a bunch of international players stayed home.
The TaylorMade Driving Relief tournament and Capital One’s The Match were the first two back in May, nearly two months after things shut down across the nation. Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson got the TaylorMade Driving Relief match set up while Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady played in Capital One’s The Match: Champions for Charity. The first real tournament was the Charles Schwab Challenge and the first major was the PGA Championship.
The Masters was played in November. The Open Championship was the only major not played and that was because of Britain’s own coronavirus rules.
Professional tennis was sent into a tailspin when the coronavirus pandemic started to impact sports leagues everywhere. The ATP and WTA didn’t return to the courts until late August with the Western & Southern Open. The U.S. Open was held, as was the French Open. But there was no Wimbledon. A lot of other matches were canceled in between as well.
UFC took a lot of heat for getting its pay-per-views and fights back on track quickly, but it was when Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje fought on May 9 that sports really returned. The fight took place in Jacksonville, Fla., and it was a card that also had Henry Cejudo and Francis Ngannou on it.
UFC would conduct events without fans in Las Vegas and on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. The promotion did it right and paved the way for other mixed martial arts promotions to get back on track as well.
Men’s and women’s college basketball conference tournaments came to an abrupt halt in March. The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancelation of the NCAA basketball tournaments and fans had to wait until November for college basketball again. The NCAA set new rules in place with proper protocols as the 2020-21 season started up again.
The 2020 Olympic Games were set to take place in Tokyo. But while there was hope the pandemic would have been over by the summer, the Games were eventually pushed back to 2021. Having the Games would have been a logistical nightmare since the virus wasn’t exactly under control.
Horse Racing’s Triple Crown schedule was shifted all over the place but the show went on. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes all got underway this year. The Derby didn’t have fans in Kentucky, the Preakness didn’t have fans in Maryland and neither did the Belmont in New York.
The XFL had a promising first few weeks. The play was entertaining and fans were treated to football in the spring. It wasn’t the NFL, but it was enough to keep those starved for football after the Super Bowl to stay somewhat full. The pandemic, however, shut everything in the XFL down and it didn’t come back. The XFL was forced to cease operations. The league was sold to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dany Garcia, giving it hope that it would be back eventually.