As sports fans sit amidst the most uncertain of times due to the coronavirus, there is still hope. At some point, COVID-19 will be reduced to just another virus and its effects will diminish. Until that time, the sports world remains on lockdown.


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At some point though, sports will return. When they do, it will most likely be without fans to start. That brings up the question, “Which sport is best suited to play without fans?”

Coach Rick has some insight.

“Behind Closed Doors”

Games without fans are more common outside of North America. The term “behind closed doors” refers to sporting events played without spectators. It has happened most often in soccer – or football as the rest of the world calls it – where fans aren’t allowed to watch a game because of some sort of penalty.

A team found guilty of a certain act or one that has some stadium issues can be penalized by having to play without fans. This is extremely rare in North American sports.

Rare Occurrences

In April 2015, the Baltimore Orioles hosted the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards. The stadium gates were locked and no fans were admitted to the game.

In the days prior to the Orioles-White Sox matchup, a 25-year-old black man named Freddie Gray had suffered a fatal injury while in police custody.

The city of Baltimore was on high alert due to civil unrest. The Orioles decided it would be safer to play the game without fans. Baltimore won 8-2 in the first-ever crowd-less MLB game.

 


Orioles make history in empty stadium


 

There actually is some precedence for a sporting event with no fans due to a medical concern.

In 1989, the now-defunct North Atlantic Conference held its men’s basketball tournament without fans due to a measles outbreak on the campus of Siena University, which then spread to the University of Hartford.

The NAC tournament was played at the Hartford Civic Center, minus fans. Siena beat Boston in dramatic fashion 68-67 to claim its first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. Fans went wild, but at Siena’s campus center miles away from the site of the game.

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NBA, NHL, MLB

Professional basketball, hockey, and baseball all put their current seasons on hold at some point due to the coronavirus outbreak. The NBA thought about games without fans, but only for a minute after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus. A number of players have since tested positive.

The NBA’s return to play has been discussed and it is possible the league continues without fans. The same holds for the NHL and MLB. The problem with both the NBA and NHL is simply contact. While there won’t be any fans present, the players still come in contact with each other during play.

An asymptomatic player, coach, or staff member that contracts the virus prior to the resumption of a season could lead to another outbreak. Baseball might be a better choice to return to play without fans since players are spread out on the field of play.

 


First Take discusses which sports could be played without fans


 

Still, players would have to observe the rules of social distancing in the dugouts and locker rooms in order to continue play. Plus, players do come in contact with each other on the field. While less so than basketball or hockey, there is still player-to-player contact in baseball.

NFL & College Football

ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit took a lot of heat over his comment about college football. Herbstreit, the network’s top color commentator, said he would be very surprised if there was a 2020 college football season.

It seems extreme, but it is the worst possible scenario.

If the NFL and NCAA do decide to play, one thing that could speed up a return is playing without fans.

There are some college football stadiums that seat in excess of 100,000 spectators. Even smaller NFL stadiums will seat 60,000 to 70,000. There is simply no way the NFL or NCAA is going to allow fans until COVID-19 is completely gone.

The problem with playing football games is the same that exists for the NBA, NHL, and MLB. It’s actually a bigger issue for football as rosters are much bigger. There are dozens of coaches and support personnel, officials, and more.

Coming back without fans is a possibility for football, but the game certainly isn’t the best suited for such a return.

Final Answer

The absolute best sport suited for a return without fans is…well, it could be racing. NASCAR actually ran some races without fans, but again there are just simply too many people involved to pull off a race – pit crews, etc.

The thought of track, or actually just running, crossed my mind as a possibility. Then, I thought of that big giant mass of people at the beginning of a race. That’s why the New York City Marathon was cancelled and the Boston Marathon has been postponed.

So, there really is only one sport that could carry on as if nothing happened – golf. Guys go out in pairs when playing on the PGA Tour. Skip the pair and go out single, skip the caddie, forget the fans, and carry on. There you have it. The sport best suited for play without fans. Golf.

About the Author

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Rick, a Generation X-er, who now lives just north of the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. A former high school, college, and professional football player, Rick now spends his time as a high school coach and as a personal quarterback trainer. An all-state high school quarterback, he went on to become an Academic All-American at Division II Indiana University of PA. He later coached at his alma mater helping lead the program to the 1990 NCAA Division II national championship game. Rick has also served as a high school head coach and as an assistant in Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.

His passion for sports writing started when he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper and continued when he worked as a sportswriter for the Jamestown (New York) Post-Journal in the early 1990s. A true sports fanatic, Rick enjoys all things Pittsburgh: Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. The Immaculate Reception, the 1979 We Are Family Pirates, and the ’91-’92 Penguins are among his favorites. After working as an educator and athletic director for several years, he again took up sports writing and has contributed to several websites and publications, including Coach & Player magazine, X & O Labs, American Football Monthly, and many others.

When not consumed with coaching, watching, thinking about, or writing about football and other seasonal sports, he finds himself working out like he was still in college and reading everything from military history to Brad Thor novels. Rick has also been chasing rock god stardom as a drummer who has played with bands that have opened for the likes of Fuel, Days of the New, and Alien Ant Farm. He continues to play with his church worship group. Most importantly, Rick is married to the love of his life, Lisa, and has two beautiful daughters.

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