Sports at all levels have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the current sports landscape, there isn’t a lot going on. When you turn on ESPN, you’ll find stories on the NFL Draft or stories reminiscing on the past. A documentary about the 1995-96 Bulls is currently one of the biggest stories in sports. With all of that in mind, it’s important to remember that sports aren’t only for our entertainment. The lives of players, coaches and student-athletes are directly affected by COVID-19.
The main topic of discussion in professional sports right now is the continuation of the current season. The NHL and NBA seasons have been suspended for weeks and it’s unknown what they plan to do. The MLB has yet to start its regular season in the wake of the crisis, and MLS teams have only played a handful of games. With each passing week, these leagues’ future schedules get pushed further and further away from normalcy. Furthermore, when it comes time to draft, teams will be basing decisions on a limited sample size. For example, March Madness plays a large role in NBA scouting, and that intel is out of the picture. The quality of a team’s scouting could define its success for the next decade.
Whether or not athletes are getting paid during this break depends on the league’s collective bargaining agreement. NHL, NFL and MLS players are getting paid as normal. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement includes a “force majeure event” clause, which enables owners to withhold players’ salaries in the event of a crisis. I suspect that owners are doing everything they can to avoid exercising that clause and maintaining good player-owner relations. The MLB is offering players allowances of varying amounts based on status. Veterans get paid the most at $4,775 daily, while minor league players who have some experience in the majors receive just $500 per day. The agreement lasts until May 24. The MLB is different from other leagues because of the farm system. They have way more mouths to feed than any other league in the U.S. The Minor League players are receiving weekly allowances of $400 until May 31.
There are 460,000 student-athletes that compete every year at the collegiate level. The Spring and Winter seasons were cut short this year, leaving national championships and many conference championships in limbo. Student-athletes, especially seniors, have been devastated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nobody ever expects their playing careers to end like this. This is an unprecedented event in the history of American sports, and it’s unclear how colleges will move forward with athletics. There are already rumors emerging that the football season will be played without fans. The NCAA will do everything they can to preserve the season and as much revenue as possible. Even though college football is the NCAA’s cash cow, the safety of its members is its top priority.
Recruitment raises a lot of questions for the upcoming season. Student-athletes cannot sign in person, go to workouts or visit colleges. Because person-to-person contact is so limited, virtual communication between recruiters and players is key. Students are relying on recruiters to give virtual tours and put them in contact with faculty members. Not only is COVID-19 complicating the process for students, but it’s also a nightmare for recruiters. The spring season essentially didn’t happen in high school athletics. How do you recruit for baseball, softball or track and field without being able to evaluate incoming freshmen?
Recruiters are counting on earlier rankings and tape, as well as word of mouth to evaluate players. High school coaches and recruiters communicate regularly regarding high school prospects. This is an unusual challenge for college recruiters, and it’s going to reward the recruiters that put in their work early. There will be no shortage of talented players that didn’t get recruited, and as a result, there will be a huge number of walk-ons next year. Every school is going to have an influx of local talent. The effects of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come in sports on every level. The way an organization responds to the crisis could be the difference between dominance and despair.