The Medic: How leagues handled the pandemic reflects value on players

As we head into the final column of “The Medic,” I wanted to note how illuminating this experience was writing these biweekly pieces, as it uncovered how all our formidable sports organizations and leagues like the NBA, NFL and NCAA truly operate. 

What I mean by this is how prepared these organizations were to manage the challenging hurdle of the pandemic as well as how they valued science and the safety of their players and staff. Therefore, in this last column of the semester, I intend to look back on how our sports organizations handled the pandemic and what this shows about them. 

To begin, I will start with what I felt were the best efforts of playing sports in the pandemic, which were with the NBA and WNBA. Both leagues implemented a bubble system, where players tested before entering the bubble to make sure they didn’t contract the coronavirus and were then sent to their respective bubbles in Florida. Once there, they followed daily testing and strict restrictions to keep everyone safe. 

This led to some iconic moments, including when Sacramento Kings forward Richaun Holmes was forced to quarantine for 10 days again because he picked up a Postmates order which crossed the NBA bubble. 

Even in more critical moments, we saw how the WNBA postponed the semifinal game of the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx because of inconclusive coronavirus test results from the players on the Storm. The decisive decision making from both of the basketball leagues’ officials demonstrated how sports can operate smoothly and with caution despite the pandemic. 

Nevertheless, the NBA has gotten more relaxed with its precautions for the 2020-21 season, which caused an influx of cases. 

I will also say that it is important to note that the NHL should be applauded as well because of their successful dual bubble system in the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Toronto, where there were not many hiccups because of the strict adherence to protocols. 

Overall, strong work by all three leagues. 

Next, I want to discuss the conundrum and disarray we saw with the NFL. Our professional football league had the most time to prepare for the pandemic since their season already ended by the time the pandemic started getting worse in the United States in March. 

At first, the NFL made a good move by having their 2020 draft virtually where prospective players could stay at home, but when it came to the actual season, their mistakes began to show. Specifically, the number of postponed and rescheduled games hurt the quality of the season, which could have been mitigated if proper measures had taken place to contain the virus. 

The NFL gave a lot of authority to teams to make sure their team is safe rather than forcing everyone to be in some type of bubble, which led to their many cases of the coronavirus. 

A time that highlighted how much the NFL wanted the games to play despite clear hazards was when the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs were supposed to play on Sunday, Oct. 4, and the game got postponed due to both Patriots quarterback Cam Newton and Chiefs backup quarterback Jordan Ta’amu testing positive. It ended up getting rescheduled to the next day on Monday since there were no additional positive tests on either team. 

However, the problem with that thinking, as I have mentioned numerous times before, is that the virus appears at different times depending on the individual  since it has an incubation period from 2-14 days, so the testing will not always be accurate. 

In the end, the NFL simply did not do the best job of preventing the spread of the coronavirus due to how much freedom it gave teams to keep their players and staff safe. 

Finally, I wanted to end with the mixed bag of the NCAA, especially concerning football and basketball. Both of these collegiate sports seasons were hit with a multitude of cancellations and postponements with our own USC Trojans only playing a shortened six-game season. 

For both the football and the regular basketball seasons, they followed more of the NFL strategy to let teams deal with themselves — which I understand because there are so many teams in the NCAA, but when it came time to the NCAA tournament, they finally created their own bubble, which helped let March Madness run smoothly. 

The one place where I thought the NCAA, as well as the collegiate conferences and teams, did a good job was where they did not hesitate to cancel games like the VCU-Oregon game during the tournament in March.

Hopefully, the coronavirus pandemic will give these leagues a wake-up call on how they logistically manage their teams. 

Pratik Thakur is a sophomore writing about sports and its intersection with health policy during the coronavirus pandemic. His column, “The Medic,” ran every other Wednesday.