Sports are a product of a functioning society.
It’s a saying that’s been written and mentioned countless times over the past few months. And right now, America is the furthest thing from functional, especially when you consider that a country like New Zealand has lifted all of its COVID-19 restrictions and is declaring that it’s virus-free, while superstar athletes in this country, like Russell Westbrook, are announcing that they have contracted the virus weeks before the NBA is scheduled to restart in Orlando.
But, if American sports are ever going to return, then the way that The Basketball Tournament (TBT) handled the pandemic should become the model for how things should be done.
Tonight, the TBT will host its championship game live on ESPN at 7 p.m. EST (it’s the Marquette alum Golden Eagles vs. Sideline Cancer). The tournament, which began on July 4, was the first nationally televised team basketball in America since the NBA shut down in March. The annual event that started in 2014 has featured between 64 and 97 teams over the years, as a single-elimination tournament that has a winner-take-all prize of $2 million. Many teams feature alumni squads from college programs, but it’s also open to players that aren’t in the NBA, or its G League. Due to COVID-19, this summer’s event started with 24 teams, leading to the prize falling to $1 million, what it was in the tournament’s earlier days.
As pro leagues around the country have begun, or will soon, the TBT wound up being the crash test dummy for American sports. Five teams were sent home before the tournament even began, as a single positive test led to an automatic withdrawal of any team that had a member that tested positive. Everyone involved with the event stayed on a “quarantined island” that included Nationwide Arena, a convention center, and hotel where players lived and played in Columbus, Ohio.
“When we devised our health and safety plan, we were hopeful the summer
would bring fewer than 50 cases of coronavirus per day in the U.S. Instead, it’s over 50,000. Despite this, our plan held up,” TBT founder Jon Mugar, told Deadspin.
“Operating in this environment has been a monumental undertaking.”
Along with living on the “island,” players and staff were tested multiple times, as more than 2,000 tests were administered. According to the TBT, there have only been nine positive tests since everyone involved with the event showed up in Ohio.
There were also no fans in the arena, the commentators were calling games from studios and were not in the building, and with the help of a boom mic, even the sideline reporter was at least six feet away from the players and coaches she interviewed.
For a game like basketball that includes sweaty people in shorts and jerseys playing indoors while using a ball covered in other people’s DNA, I figured this was going to be a disaster.
I was proven wrong.
In March, I wrote about why I thought the NBA should cancel its season and scrap all plans for a restart. Four months later, I still feel that way as the size of the NBA’s bubble, in a place like Florida, increases the chance of a serious outbreak. But since it seems like the league, and some of its players and coaches, are determined to play, they might as well steal from the TBT in an effort to produce a disaster-free event.
In other sports, the MLS and NWSL have had their issues. Major League Baseball seems dead-set on refusing to switch things up. And the NHL and WNBA all have procedures in play like the NBA, but we’ll see how they will all hold up.
With the way things are going in this country, who knows what will happen tomorrow, let alone next week. The future of college athletics may be determined by how the pros handle things this summer.
And if all goes well, a lot of it may be due to a basketball tournament that took place over 11 days in the middle of Ohio.
That’s how drunk 2020 is.