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Full menu of sports options reliant on virus containment

Remember right after the initial lockdowns in March and April, when the only sports programming on television were replays of “classic” games in history, and documentary series like the Chicago Bulls “Last Dance” on ESPN?

We realized that when all of the leagues realigned their 2020 schedules to the fall that we’d have a glut of sports going on at once, and that’s certainly what we’ve experienced in October.

Last weekend I was back to my idle layoff status after earlier completing a temporary 11-day stint of work during a COVID-related quarantine of some newsroom staff members. So, I had plenty of time to work the TV remote after spending much of the previous weekend working on coverage of Creston’s homecoming game and the approaching closure of Pine Valley Golf Club.

Back to having free time on Sunday, I spent the afternoon alternating between NFL games and that week’s PGA golf tournament in Las Vegas, waiting for the prime time menu that included the NBA Finals, the Seahawks and Vikings playing on NBC Sunday night football, and the Rays and Astros beginning their ALCS series.

While setting the DVR for the NBA game as the Lakers were out in front big in their clinching win, I alternated between football and baseball. Seattle’s 27-26 victory was winding up at the same time as the last pitch in the Rays’ 2-1 victory. I found myself alternating channels after every pitch to try to catch each key play in the final seconds of the football game. It was almost as hectic as covering a game!

I was in the same “dilemma” Monday night. At about 10:15 p.m., Mike Williams made a huge catch for the Los Angeles Chargers with 15 seconds left of their Monday Night game against the Saints in a 27-27 game. At the exact same time, the Atlanta Braves got a home run from Austin Riley to go up 2-1 on the favored Los Angeles Dodgers, on the way to a 5-1 win finished a few minutes later. This time I was smart enough to set the DVR for the finish of the football game while watching the Braves secure the final three outs.

Catching up on what I missed in the football game, I saw Marshon Lattimore’s tackle of Williams a half yard short on fourth down, to preserve the Saints’ 30-27 overtime win.

The rest of the week hasn’t quite delivered all of those dramatics simultaneously, but I’m tuned in because I’m not covering high school sports at their postseason time. (I hope to be doing that this winter. At least, I’ve received positive signals in that regard).

One thing I’ve noticed in the competitions held during a pandemic is the ever-changing policies regarding fans allowed, no fans allowed or limitations on fans in the venue. In a perfect world the leagues and conferences could act as one, instead of individual states and municipalities setting the guidelines at those stadiums. It’s not really fair for one team in a league to have 15,000 to 20,000 “distanced” fans cheering for their team and providing that home field advantage, while some schools that can’t allow any fans actually end up benefiting the visiting team with their policy.

Las Vegas odds makers have determined that these games where there are no fans or a very small number, changes the normal projected point spreads awarded the home team by up to a touchdown. That’s a significant effect. Teams within the same conference aren’t treated equally in their competitive environments.

Meanwhile, in Des Moines Wednesday night there was a campaign event with a big crowd of unmasked attendees, which runs opposite of a troubling recent growth in pandemic issues, in terms of hospitalizations. On the same day, Iowa set a record with 482 COVID-related hospitalizations.

Later during KCCI’s 10 p.m. newscast Wednesday, I saw clips of the University of Iowa basketball team practicing, with players in masks during the practice drills.

So, if I’m an athletic director in charge of limiting crowd numbers and enforcing 100% mask usage during competitions and practices, I’m seeing mixed messages from national leaders and Gov. Reynolds at the very least, if not outright hypocrisy. (To be clear, crowds gathered in close quarters for protest movements are every bit the spread risk as these gatherings. Any crowd of people is considered a risk right now.)

George Wares, head softball coach at Central College, describes large gatherings as “irresponsible” under current conditions.

“We tell our athletes to stay away from big crowds so our classes can stay in person, and our teams might have a chance to play,” Wares said.

So, as we head into fall and the flu season on top of a new, unpredictable virus, we still have an enormous amount of pressure on those tasked with setting policies for public participation in these events.

The NFL is finding it to be a difficult time right now, while Major League Baseball seems to be getting through its postseason well in a pod concept. (The NBA was a model for coronavirus safety, but of course it had everyone in lockdown together in Orlando for the duration.)

It’s a challenging time, and kind of an interesting one for us sports fans, but as many area schools have already experienced, you’re only one small outbreak away from having a season interrupted. Diligence is still required to keep providing those opportunities.


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Twitter: @larrypeterson

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