Hoping new normal doesn’t last long


If sports in this unfortunate year of COVID-19 have taught us anything, it’s to embrace the non-traditional.

While Toronto and Edmonton were playing host to the NHL playoffs, NBA teams were competing in a bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

The entire World Series was played in a ballpark that is home to a team that didn’t even qualify for the postseason.

And, as the calendar flipped to November, Coastal Carolina was undefeated and resting comfortably in the AP college football rankings for the first time in the program’s history, which dates all the way back to the turn of the century — the 21st century.

Meanwhile, seven-time national champion Oklahoma was positioned behind the Chanticleers in the rankings and teams in the Pac-12 had yet to begin play.

For the curious, the nickname Chanticleers was lifted from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The author and poet, who has been called the father of English literature, described a chanticleer as “a proud and fierce rooster who dominates the barnyard.”

In consecutive weeks, the Chanticleers, of the Sun Belt Conference, had defeated the Jayhawks of Kansas, Fighting Camels of Campbell, Red Wolves of Arkansas State, Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana, Eagles of Georgia Southern and Panthers of Georgia State.

Not exactly a lineup of Buckeyes, Wolverines, Spartans and Badgers, but a perfect 6-0 record and a head start on the Big Ten and Pac-12 placed Coastal Carolina squarely on the radar of the national media and the pollsters.

Our country is renowned for its perseverance and adaptability in times of crisis.

The pandemic has already necessitated an abbreviated 60-game regular season in Major League Baseball and a schedule of contests unlike any other in the history of college football.

The Summer Olympics and a host of other sporting events have been cancelled or postponed.

Declining television ratings across the sports world indicate less interest, yet through all of the challenges, sustained enthusiasm has been evident in the zoom sessions with fans during College GameDay telecasts and among the limited crowds at events where fans are permitted entry.

The pandemic does not discriminate on the basis of profession, financial means or athletic ability. Less than two weeks before a projected Top 4 showdown with Notre Dame, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a Heisman hopeful, tested positive for COVID-19 and entered isolation.

Justin Turner’s introduction to the virus was viewed live by a national television audience. The Los Angeles third baseman was pulled from Game 6 of the World Series after MLB received his positive test results.

Short of locking Turner in the clubhouse, there was evidently no way to keep him from returning to the field after the Dodgers captured their first championship since 1988 because, with his long red beard, he easily stood out among the participants in the post-game celebration, which was a clear violation of established safety protocols.

Through the first eight weeks of the NFL season, COVID-19’s imprint on scheduling was reflected in two Monday doubleheaders and a Tuesday night game. It took only one week for the first Big Ten game to be canceled, due to an outbreak in the Wisconsin program, which has had its last two games canceled.

Without recourse, fans have grudgingly accepted the new normal in sports. Just like elections, global pandemics obviously have their own unforeseen consequences.

Jim Caltagirone resides in Altoona. He is an occasional contributor to Voice of the Fan.


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