As we enter our third month of stay-at-home orders in the state of Ohio, the question on everyone’s mind is simple: "When is every thing coming back?"
This week, Governor Mike DeWine gave Ohioans some definitive answers as to when businesses, bars and restaurants could come reopen.
As we’ve all learned over the last two months, however, COVID-19 pays no heed to schedules or timelines. There’s no guarantee there won’t be more stay-at-home orders if infection rates jump in the future.
Another thing DeWine said in his recent press conferences is that large public gatherings for events like festivals, concerts and sports will be among the last things allowed to come back.
That is exactly what sports fans did not want to hear.
It’s been about two months since the "The Day the Games Stopped" on March 12. At that point, sports fans everywhere probably knew we were in for an extended break.
In the minds of most fans, however, "extended break" probably meant a month or six weeks when the shutdown started.
They likely did not consider, as some health experts are saying, that this pandemic could be with us for 18 months to two years.
To use the sports analogy I’ve heard from some pundits, we’re only in the second inning of nine-inning game.
Have you seen ESPN programming recently? It’s all documentaries, analysis shows, video game competitions — and endless questions about when the leagues will restart.
No wonder the NFL Draft drew record-high ratings. Even with all the different on-location shots, it was the only thing felt close to normal over the last month.
When are the game’s actually coming back? That depends on the sport and level.
In many ways, the debate over when to restart sports mirrors the debate of when to reopen United States businesses as a whole.
The longer the games stay away, the deeper the potential there is for huge economic damage.
However, if the games come back too quickly, that courts the potential for huge numbers of new coronavirus infections and possible deaths.
Putting 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 people together in a stadium during a pandemic? That’s what I call a petri dish.
Little wonder why most restart plans involve playing in arenas with no fans..
At present, soccer might be the first to get back to business.
Major League Soccer has already returned its players to training — with social distancing — with an eye towards a June 8 restart. The German Bundesliga plans to start playing again on May 16.
However, there are mixed signals coming from European soccer. While Germany, Spain and England are trying to get their seasons finished, France and Holland have cancelled their domestic leagues.
Also, much like the Olympics, the world’s biggest soccer tournament this summer — the UEFA European Championships — has been postponed to 2021.
Reports have Major League Baseball trying to play ball July 1 after restarting "spring training" in early June. However, where the games will be played and what the division structure will be remains undetermined.
The NHL is taking about a 24-team playoff starting … sometime, while LeBron James said the NBA wants to complete the season "as soon as it’s safe."
Defining what "safe" is, however, might be most the difficult part of dealing with this pandemic.
Of course, the NFL announced its full schedule this week, keeping all aspects on normal timelines. The odds of that schedule remaining intact are about as good as the odds of me regrowing all of my hair.
Things are even more complicated at the college and high school levels.
The NCAA was quick to pull the trigger in March, nixing its winter sports tournaments and the entire spring sports season.
Questions remain regarding whether colleges will be able to go back to on-campus classes this fall. If they can’t, it would be all but impossible to see how the NCAA could support on-campus athletics if classes don’t take place.
There’s also a new threat to college sports: Funding.
With tax revenues falling off a cliff in the last month, public colleges have been announcing drastic budget cuts. Those cuts include 20 percent budget reductions for the athletic departments at the University of Akron and Kent State University.
The picture so dire that University of Akron president Gary L. Miller noted, "There is considerable uncertainty about the future of mid-major Division I athletics."
As the graduate of a fellow of a mid-major Division I college at Bowling Green State University, my response to that is simple: Gulp!
Worse yet, those same funding issues might be about to trickle down to the high school level.
DeWine announced a $300 million cut to school funding from the state May 6. While the numbers vary from district to district, it’s a good rule of thumb to say every Ohio school district is about to lose 1 to 2 percent of its funding.
That may not sound like much, but it could represent a huge chunk of each school’s athletic department budget, which are much more likely to be cut than core educational aspects.
I’m not saying lack of funding is about to kill high school football in Ohio. This fall, it might not need to.
Cuyahoga Falls football coach Shane Park probably said it best regarding the 2020 fall season: "To not have it, especially for the seniors, would be crushing."
Unless the pandemic abates somehow, that crushing development is something the Ohio High School Athletic Association might have to consider.
The next big date on the calendar for the OHSAA is Aug. 1, which is opening day for practice for all fall sports.
The clock is ticking. Significant steps to control/cope with the virus over the next few months will need to be made or there may be no high school sports in Ohio this fall — with or without fans in the stands.
Every aspect of American life has been impacted by coronavirus.
Two months into the lockdown, however, getting back on the field seems no closer then when the games first stopped.
That’s disquieting for myself and many sports fans. As I’ve said before, until the games come back, normal life will see a long way away.