Early Monday morning, Major League Baseball was thrown a curveball of epic proportions when it was reported that multiple players and staff members within the Miami Marlins organization had tested positive for COVID-19.
Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that 11 players and two coaches have tested positive for the coronavirus in the last few days, bringing the club's current number of cases up to 13.
Passan also reported that the Marlins' first home game of the season against the Baltimore Orioles had been canceled. Minutes later, the Yankees and Phillies game scheduled for Monday night was also canceled due to the fact that Philadelphia played Miami over the weekend.
The news out of MLB is devastating to a sport that just returned over the weekend and reportedly drew in a record number of viewers on Opening Day.
Naturally, the question that immediately goes to the backs of everyone's mind is how will this affect other professional sports like the NFL as well as college athletics. The NBA and MLS have been the blueprint among men's sports thus far of a successful return.
Both are currently playing out the rest of their seasons in a bubble in Orlando where, through the last two weeks, MLS has reported zero cases of COVID-19; the same goes for the NBA. While that's the positive side of this story, there is an important point that needs to be hammered home.
College athletics, including the money maker that is football, won't have the option of being put in a bubble. For there even to be a college season, multiple conference and NCAA leaders are in agreement that students must return for class.
“Going to class in an online sense is satisfactory,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said back in May. “There’s room for that to happen. School has to be in session, student-athletes have to be going to class.”
LSU is set to begin classes, both in person and online, on Aug. 24. The SEC is set to make a decision on the college football schedule sometime this week and it'll be interesting to see how the conference factors in Monday's news out of MLB in that process.
All along, conference and NCAA decision makers have said they'd be monitoring the return of professional sports and considering the results of the returns in their own decisions. While MLS and the NBA have gone off without a hitch, the same cannot be said for MLB.
"We've tried to use every one of these experiences as a learning opportunity to help inform our decision making," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said on College Football Live last week.
One option the conference could decide to go with is to push back the start of the season by a couple of weeks to see how the athletes and case numbers respond once students return for classes. However, that's just one of the hurdles that needs to be jumped.
"The ability to have reliable, available and timely testing is at the top of the list," Sankey said on The Paul Finebaum Show. "In order to facilitate what may come—the opportunity to play—that reality around testing is going to be very important. If you asked me today, if we don't have a vaccine, that testing ability is going to be critical."
For now all that can be done is to wait and see what each conference decides. The NCAA announced last week it would table any decisions on fall championships into August, leaving the conferences to decide how to move forward with a season.
“I haven’t put a deadline (on it), I’ve actually put dates out there," Sankey said. "I wrote out the timeline way back in May and I realize how much has changed since then. We look at next week as an important milestone. The way I’ll explain it: I’ve finished 41 marathons in my life and I realize you’re going go mile by mile and we are on that journey. The challenge right now is to understand where that finish line may be.”