Editor's Note

by Jayden Personnat

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Giannis Antetokounmpo

When The Benchwarmer published its last issue in late April, sports on every level—youth, high school, collegiate, and professional—had stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure of schools and universities across the United States had forced high school and collegiate student-athletes out of a spring season of interscholastic competition. Professional sports were also in the same predicament: the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and MLS, and European soccer leagues had all suspended their seasons and were uncertain when they would resume. However, as the summer months progressed and the pandemic raged on, sports slowly returned, though with some caveats. High school athletes returned to practice wearing masks and socially distancing. College and professional conferences began to hold games with stadiums void of fans. With these drastic changes in the sports world, some fans have questioned: With all these new rules and restrictions, can we even consider this to be sport?

As most schools in the U.S. adopted a hybrid model to return to students to campus this year, high school athletics returned with a set of new rules and guidelines. Although most conferences decided to cancel season and tournament competition during the fall, students returned to practice wearing masks and social distancing. Later on, schools across the country began to schedule semi-contact scrimmigages and unofficial games to implement some form of competition in the fall season.

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, high schools imposed new regulations on the conduct of sport matches. For instance, in soccer, the MIAA and ISL have banned throw-ins, headers, free kick walls, corner kicks in the air, and goalkeeper throws and kicks half-field. Citing the absence of these fundamental parts of soccer, critics argue that these changes have compelled coaches and players to adapt to a completely different form of soccer from pre-COVID times. However, given that the alternative to these changes is no soccer or sports at all, people may have to accept these rules changes if they still wish to salvage a sports season this year.

College and professional athletics also returned, although with less stringent guidelines than those of high school athletics. While collegiate conferences and professional leagues restarted their seasons and played games, there was an essential component missing: fans. Whether in a “bubble” environment like the NBA or empty stadiums like the MLS, athletes competed in a new atmosphere with artificial crowd noise and cheers from virtual monitors. This change has appeared to have an impact at the professional so-far, specifically with regards to the concept of home-court advantage. Without fans cheering for the home team, empty and neutral locations may have negated the effect of home-court advantage on the outcome of games.

While the pandemic has had a negative impact on sports, there were a few positive benefits. For example, in the NBA bubble, players were able to obtain more rest before games in the absence of cross-country flights and back-to-back games. So far, sports on this level have appeared to create a working system to foster athletic competition during the pandemic. In the coming months, conferences and leagues will likely come up with more innovative and creative measures to promote fan engagement and entertainment in sport.

In this issue, our writers covered a range of topics from the NBA bubble to Naomi Osaka’s dominant win in the U.S. Open. In each article, we looked to answer these questions: How is this pandemic affecting our viewpoint on sports? How is this pandemic changing sports? In answering these questions, we hope to have the BB&N community consider how this one-in-a-lifetime event is affecting one of the staples of life: sports.