Unusual year for sports meant few fans, shortened schedules, and wide-open playoffs in ‘the bubble’

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Abby Vickers

Spaced out player benches, fans restricted to the upper level and no pep band were a few the COVID-related changes that fans noticed during Boone’s boys basketball game at home against Conner on Jan. 8.

Matthew Brazier

The COVID-19 virus has not only affected the economy, public health, and schools, but also sports across the world. Since the beginning of the virus back in early 2020, professional sports leagues have had to make adjustments to ensure safety across the leagues

The 2020 Summer Olympics, which is the biggest sporting event in the world, was postponed until July of 2021 due to the increasing spread of the virus and how dangerous it had become. This new date is not confirmed as it may end up getting postponed again or even cancelled.

All four of the big professional sports leagues in the United States made the decision to limit the number of fans or have no fans attending the regular season games. Each league also made individual changes to stop the spread of the virus.

Major League Baseball, the only professional league so far to both start and end a season during the pandemic, had a very different season than in the past. Each team only played a 60 game regular season which is the shortest since 1883. 

MLB also expanded the postseason to more teams, allowing 16 teams instead of 10, which is a change the league has thought about keeping. In the regular season, there were no fans in the stands, but in the NLCS and ALCS, the league allowed a few fans into the game.

The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League both had seasons stopped in the middle of the regular season. Both leagues used the interruptions to make new bubble systems to ensure safety for the players and coaches as well as continue play.

The NBA bubble had 22 teams, and each team played eight games to add to their record to try and make the playoffs. The league also added a new play-in tournament for the eighth seed in each conference which pits the eighth and ninth seed against each other for a playoff spot if that eighth seed is not at least four games above the ninth.

The NHL invited 24 teams to the new bubble location and immediately started the postseason. The league invited 24 teams instead of the normal 16 because of how short the regular season was for the league.

Both leagues did not allow fans in the stand during the finals but allowed family members to join their spouses and watch at different points. Family members were allowed to attend games starting in the conference semifinals in the NBA and the conference finals for the NHL.

The NFL has begun the season in the pandemic but is currently going through the post season. The league did not ban fans from attending the games but instead left the decision up to the teams themselves.

With the postponement of multiple games due to COVID outbreaks, games have been played on unusual days, like Wednesday and Tuesday which has only happened one other time in the past 70 years. The NFL has also been the most strict league in regards to mask wearing, as multiple teams have been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars and even draft picks.

College and high school sports also have made changes to ensure safety including masks, few fans in the stands, and changes to benches

Only time will tell if 2021 brings normalcy back to the sports world or if there will be another year of masks and empty stadiums.