Sports Fans’ Dismay: Most Sporting Events Suspended, Locally and Nationally

The Birmingham Legion is one of the sporting teams that has postponed games because of COVID-19 (Source: Courtesy of Legion FC)

If you were planning to take in a Birmingham Bulls hockey game, or a youth volleyball tournament or youth soccer play, you’re bound for disappointment.

Sports have been anything but fun and games this week as COVID-19 has knocked much of the sports world off its axis.

The diagnosis that one, and then a second, player in the National Basketball Association has contracted the virus began a domino effect that continues to ripple across the country and even to some youth sports in metro Birmingham.

Locally, a weekend bicycle race, a volleyball tournament and youth soccer play are among the events that have been called off. Beyond today, Gov. Kay Ivey announced that public schools will close at the end of business Wednesday and remain closed for about two weeks with a proposed reopening on April 8.

During that school closure, there will be no school sports events or practices.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association announced Friday evening that it was calling off all events after Tuesday at least until schools reopen, at which time the situation will be reevaluated.

The Birmingham Bulls were to host the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs tonight and Saturday at Pelham Ice Arena. Those plans changed when the Southern Professional Hockey League suspended all league operations for the weekend in response to the coronavirus.

“The board of governors will reconvene Monday and decide how to move forward from there,” Bulls President Joe Stroud said. “It’s a significant financial impact, but at the same time it’s the right thing to do for the safety of our fans, players … everyone involved.

“It’s definitely something you’re not prepared for,” Stroud continued, “but we tried to catch it on the front end as soon as possible and make the best of it.”

The national impact on the sports world has been obvious:

  • The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey Association suspended their seasons.
  • Major League Soccer suspended its season for 30 days.
  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled all of its winter and spring sports, including the men’s and women’s basketball championships and the College World Series.
  • Major League Baseball ceased spring training and announced it will delay the start of its regular season at least two weeks. Minor League Baseball, which includes the Birmingham Barons, the Rocket City Trash Pandas and the Montgomery Biscuits, will delay the start of the 2020 season.
  • NASCAR has postponed its scheduled races in Atlanta and Homestead-Atlanta.
  • The PGA Tour canceled its flagship event, The Players Championship, and the next three events on the schedule because of the spread of the coronavirus. The Masters, the first of the four major tournaments on the tour, was postponed. Organizers at Augusta National hope to play the Masters – and its companion amateur events – at a later date this year. It marks the first time that the Masters, which dates to 1934, has been played outside of March or April.
  • The 124th Boston Marathon has been postponed to Sep. 14. The race was scheduled for when it is done annually, on Patriots Day. This year, that is April 20.
  • B.A.S.S. got in under the wire as it hosted its Bassmaster Classic last weekend on Lake Guntersville and its weigh-in and expo at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. This week, B.A.S.S., which is headquartered in metro Birmingham, postponed the Bassmaster Elite event at Chickamauga Lake that originally was scheduled at the Dayton, Tennessee, fishery March 19-22. Additionally, B.A.S.S. postponed the 2020 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at Lake Hartwell,  scheduled for March 26-28. “Any time we are forced to postpone a tournament it is disappointing to our anglers, fans, sponsors and staff,” said Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO. “The anglers want to fish this incredible lake, where we have enjoyed amazing fan support over the years. After careful discussions though, it was apparent that the best decision was to postpone the tournament and festivities.”

Faye Oates, commissioner of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office of sports and entertainment, called it a snowball effect.

The Southwestern Athletic Conference was to begin its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on Friday at Bartow Arena, on the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus. That event was called off, as was the Birmingham Hammerfest cycling event on Saturday and Sunday.

“We had two NCAA championships that were going to be here,” Oates said. “We had track and field DII this week and in two weeks the Women’s Elite Eight Division II.”

The United Soccer League, which includes the Birmingham Legion, announced it will suspend the 2020 season for at least 30 days but intends to reschedule both home games that had been set for March.

The Alabama Independent School Association announced it would take a three-week break from activities after its schools played games this weekend.

AHSAA also has postponed the 30th annual Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet from Monday to June 22.

The 30th annual Mississippi/Alabama All Star Basketball Classic was being played as scheduled Friday night at the A. E. Wood Coliseum on the campus of Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi, but with limited spectator access.

Birmingham Volleyball Club was to have hosted its Heff Memorial Classic on Saturday. That event was canceled because of an order from USA Volleyball, its parent organization, to suspend all activities.

Carly Shannon Woods, a BVC coach whose husband, Lance, is a director of the club, said USA Volleyball and the Southern Region handed down the order to suspend any activities until at least March 22.

Woods said “you don’t want to be that event” that advances the spread of the virus.

“We had a team planning to play in the Colorado qualifier, the Crossroads, this weekend,” she said. “They flew out there on Thursday and a couple of hours later they canceled the event so they had to turn around and come home.”

Local youth soccer was not spared as U.S. Youth Soccer suspended all national league and conference play matches that required significant car or air travel. Additionally, United States Soccer Federation suspended all play in its programs through April 30.

Alabama Soccer Association and its board of directors suspended all play – league, tournaments, practice and games – in Alabama through March 29.

“The key is to do what we can to prevent the spread of this virus,” Executive Director Jennifer Pfeiffer said in a release. “As an individual, take basic precautions such as washing your hands frequently. We will keep you updated and post all updates on social media and our website as the environment changes.”

At Birmingham-Southern College, all athletics activities, including practice and games, will be suspended after March 20 through the end of the spring term. As previously announced, all home athletic competitions through March 20 will be limited to participating team personnel, essential game day personnel, and immediate family members only. No unaffiliated students, staff, or spectators will be permitted.