The North American sports world came to a standstill on Thursday as Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer put their seasons on hold and the NCAA Tournament was canceled altogether.
The fast-moving developments were set in motion late Wednesday when the National Basketball Association said it would suspend its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
After watching pro leagues and college conferences react to the coronavirus pandemic through the day on Thursday, the National Collegiate Athletic Association in late afternoon dropped the most jarring news of all — that the biggest event on the early spring sports calendar, its Division I men’s basketball tournament, would not be played.
The women’s tournament also was canceled, along with all other winter and spring college championships.
“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities,” the NCAA said in a statement.
Earlier Thursday, the NHL followed the NBA’s lead, calling for a “pause” in its season, in part because it shares many arenas with NBA teams and that it “seems likely” some hockey players would test positive.
The league said it hoped to resume play when it is “appropriate and prudent” and eventually to crown a Stanley Cup champion. It is not clear whether any more regular-season games will be played.
The Islanders currently are one point out of a playoff spot and the Rangers are two behind, but if the league were to base playoff invitations on percentage of possible points earned, the Islanders would earn a spot.
Soon after the NHL announcement came, MLB called off spring training games in Florida and Arizona and announced that the start of its regular season, scheduled for March 26, would be delayed at least two weeks.
The announcement came while the Yankees were playing a spring game against the Nationals.
“Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans,” MLB said in a statement. “MLB will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts.”
The Big East men’s basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden continued play early Thursday. But with St. John’s leading Creighton 38-35 at halftime of a quarterfinal game, officials canceled the tournament.
“Following a call with our Presidents and Athletics Directors and additional consultation with the City of New York, the Big East Conference has canceled the remainder of our men's basketball tournament, effective immediately,” the conference announced in a statement.
Other major conferences also called off their tournaments, including the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference.
Hofstra qualified for the NCAA men’s event for the first time since 2001 and was expecting to hear its name called when the brackets were to be announced on Sunday, but that hope was dashed in what will be the first year without an NCAA Tournament since it began in 1939.
On Wednesday, the NCAA announced that tournament games would be played in mostly empty arenas, but about 24 hours later it came to the conclusion even that step was not enough.
The NCAA Tournament long has engaged even casual fans who fill out brackets and compete for bragging rights, or money, with friends and co-workers.
The National Football League canceled league meetings scheduled to start March 29 in Palm Beach, Florida, but that league need not confront the issue of games themselves because its preseason does not begin until August.
The Giants and Jets called scouts off the road, where they have been preparing for next month’s NFL Draft.
The men’s tennis tour also suspended play, but the PGA Tour plans to continue holding golf tournaments, without spectators permitted.
The wave of suspensions and cancellations during a busy sports season came as a shock to many fans, with NBA and NHL games going on uninterrupted until Wednesday despite increasing calls by health experts to limit large gatherings of people.
It widely was expected that the NBA was preparing to announce as early as Thursday that games would be played without fans, but the news about Gobert caused a sudden and more drastic change in plans.
There is no real precedent for this situation. The sports world took a pause after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but the Mets hosted a game 10 days later.
Sports mostly carried on even during world wars, although the 1918 baseball season was cut short by a month or so during World War I.
During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged professional baseball to play on in the interests of maintaining domestic morale.