COVID-19 levels playing field
Over the last year, in every-day life and sports, COVID-19 has demonstrated repeatedly that it will not play fair or treat everyone equally.
From the depletion of rosters in the college and professional ranks, to extended pauses in competition on all levels, some teams are shouldering an inordinate share of the pandemic burden.
The 48-team bracket for the NCAA Division I women’s volleyball championship perfectly encapsulates the challenges of athletic competition in the COVID-19 era.
After playing only four regular season matches and two more in the Colonial Athletic Association’s postseason championship, Towson University in Maryland secured an automatic NCAA bid with an overall record of 6-0.
Testing protocols established by Towson and its opponents had resulted in the cancellation of seven regular-season matches. Contrast Towson’s abbreviated season with the 38-court appearances by Texas State.
Within a single state, pandemic conditions can vary widely, so it is understandable that competitive imbalances exist across the country.
When the CAA championship began, Towson’s season had been on pause for nearly a month.
The NCAA tourney began Wednesday and is expected to wind up April 24.
Penn State is certainly in unfamiliar territory as a No. 13 seed in the NCAA championship. The program traditionally builds momentum throughout the regular season and reaches peak performance entering the postseason.
The Lady Lions played 14 matches this season, the fewest in the history of the program, which dates to 1976.
Due to the cancellation of four matches at the end of the regular season and a first-round bye, Penn State will play its first match in the championship nearly a month after its last contest. Only eight teams in the NCAA championship field of 48 have played fewer matches than the Lady Lions.
As in any year, teams that best manage adversity and distractions typically emerge stronger for the experience.
It’s a fair assumption that the Vancouver Canucks would rather be riding a wave of good fortune. Already competing in a quasi-division bubble against the six other Canadian teams, Vancouver was forced to postpone six games between March 31 and April 10.
Seventeen players on the active roster and three coaches entered the league’s COVID-19 protocol, effectively stalling a run at a postseason berth with only 13 games remaining in the regular season.
The accommodations that the American Hockey League made for the pandemic may actually hamper the postseason prospects for the teams in the Atlantic Division, which is comprised of only three teams.
Providence, Hartford and Bridgeport will play one another 12 times, which hardly seems like ideal preparation for the playoffs in a 31-team league.
The Washington Nationals finally opened their season on April 6, following the postponement of their first four games. Ten players were not available for the opener, including four who tested positive for COVID-19 and five who were quarantined because of contact tracing.
Teams in a specific league are subject to the same protocols for managing the pandemic, but not all are impacted similarly, which negates all the efforts that are made to create competitive parity and equal opportunity for success.
Through no fault of their own, some teams are gaining an extra advantage in their pursuit of a championship by virtue of other contenders succumbing to the arbitrary fate dictated by this unpredictable virus.
That extra advantage is not a violation of any rule, but still, it just doesn’t seem fair.
Caltagirone resides in Altoona. He is a frequent contributor to Voice of the Fan.