Fifteen Division I football games were canceled last week because of players, coaches and others testing positive for COVID-19. The 2020 college football season is a mess, with different teams from different conferences playing a different number of games over different stretches of time.
Yet all you really hear out of that corner of the sports world are complaints about the effect these scattershot cancellations are having on the sanctity of the season. You aren’t hearing any serious talk about college football shutting down for the rest of the year or any kind of concession that the attempt to play during the pandemic was ill-advised.
I raise the point because I can’t help but think about the public reaction to the early portion of the 2020 baseball season. A positive test by one player was enough to postpone that night’s game, sometimes an entire series. And when the Marlins and Cardinals suffered outbreaks in their clubhouses, there was a sizeable portion of the baseball world insisting the whole sport needed to shut down.
Though he admittedly considered it for a brief while, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred kept the season going. He had teams schedule a bunch of doubleheaders to make up for all the postponements, and ultimately all but two teams played their entire 60-game schedule to completion, the Cardinals and Tigers each coming up two games short.
Yes, there were the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Justin Turner’s positive test during Game 6 of the World Series, and certainly there were problems during the season’s first few weeks. But prior to Turner’s Fall Classic shocker, baseball had gone 57 consecutive days without a single new positive.
The intention here isn’t to gush over MLB and claim the league did a fantastic job managing COVID all season long. But baseball did do better than it seems to have been given credit for, and the sport seems to have been held to a higher standard than others this year.
MLB’s challenge always was among the most difficult in North American sports, because unlike the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, it hadn’t completed most of its season before the world shut down in March. The NBA and NHL could afford to return in bubbles because there were fewer teams left, fewer games left and way more off-days in the schedule. MLB couldn’t have done that.
The National Football League and college football have faced significant challenges of their own, given the travel necessities, the large rosters, and the fact it’s impossible to play the games without making consistent, close-range contact with teammates and opponents.
But in some ways it feels like the public has given football more benefit of the doubt than it gave baseball. Maybe we’re so far into the pandemic now, we just shrug our shoulders at the risks these folks are taking to play sports for our entertainment.
But neither professional nor collegiate football have earned the right to be praised for its handling of this unprecedented season. Their problems are many, and they may only get worse over the next two months as the virus surges to frightening new levels and society tries to figure out how to weather the storm until vaccines are widely available.
Speaking of this recent surge, you’ll recall there was at one point a push by some in baseball - mostly on the players and agents side - to stretch the 2020 season into November in an attempt to play more games. There was talk of a Thanksgiving World Series.
MLB said no, citing the predictions of medical experts who anticipated a late-fall surge in COVID-19 cases. The World Series needed to end by Halloween, just like it normally does.
Look what happened. The Turner positive test aside, baseball completed an impressive postseason inside a pair of bubbles and got it completed before the worst arrived.
Yes, things could’ve been handled better from the start. MLB doesn’t deserve an A+ for the 2020 season.
But baseball didn’t fail. Not even close. Tasked with a challenge the likes of which nobody could ever have foreseen, the sport legitimately did its best and completed a season about as best as could have been asked.
If nothing else, baseball deserves far more praise than football.