Cancellations, postponements and the unknown effects

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If things were still normal, sports fans across America would be scrambling on this Thursday morning to fill out a bracket for their office pool with the big start of “March Madness” just hours away.

But normal headed out the window last week.

Since then, the news of postponements and cancellations has been downright dizzying. NCAA championships, canceled. The Kentucky Derby and Masters, postponed until the fall. Could the Tokyo Olympics be next?

Regardless, this will be an unusual year in sports, the likes of which we haven’t seen since probably World War II.

And with these changes come some unintended consequences, especially on the local front. Let’s take a look.

The NCAA cancels all remaining championships and provides for an initial year of eligibility for spring sports student-athletes.

On the heels of canceling not only “March Madness,” but the College World Series and other spring championships, the NCAA announced that “eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports,” adding that details would be finalized at a later time.

On paper, it makes sense. Baseball and softball players, for instance, were about one-third of the way through their seasons. The outdoor track season was just underway.

But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Presumably, the NCAA will, at least temporarily, expand scholarship limits and roster sizes in spring sports to allow for these additional scholarship players. For a school like LSU or even Tulane, that shouldn’t be a problem. For everyone else in Louisiana, it could be exponentially more difficult, for a number of reasons.

More scholarship athletes cost more money. And the revenue is about to take a hit without those ticket sales from spring events and likely declining revenue from the NCAA (without “March Madness,” there are no monetary “units” to pay to conferences, which trickles down to the schools.)

For those suggesting men’s and women’s basketball and other winter sports should also offer “eligibility relief,” that concept is apparently off the table … for now.

The Kentucky Derby is moved to Saturday, Sept. 5.

As of now – and we’ve learned in the last week that any scheduled event needs to be prefaced with those three words – the Louisiana Derby will be run without fans in the stands Saturday at Fair Grounds.

What is normally a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby will still have a full field and offer 100 points to the winner, but now it’s a prep for a race not in six weeks, but in six months.

Will Saturday’s winner even be in training by then?

Kudos to Gov. John Bel Edwards and other state governments to allow racing – which not only can be operated with minimal personnel over a massive space like Fair Grounds has, but supports a billion-dollar statewide industry and provides significant tax dollars – to continue to operate despite the coronavirus pandemic. Wagering will continue through various online platforms, and fans can watch races on TVG.

Once Churchill Downs announced the Kentucky Derby was moving to the first Saturday in September, Maryland officials said they would look at moving the Preakness to two weeks after. There’s been no word yet on what the New York Racing Association will do with the Belmont Stakes. And if the Belmont moves to five weeks after the Derby, that puts it just in front of the Breeders’ Cup, scheduled for the first week of November.

Regardless, some major 3-year-old summer stakes races – most notably the Travers Stakes at Saratoga – will change dates, and the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, often a launch point for top 3-year-olds after a break from the grind of the Triple Crown, would become a Derby prep.

The Super Derby at Louisiana Downs could also become a Derby prep, but would need to move earlier in the year. It has run in early September in recent years.

Speaking of Fair Grounds, with the news earlier this week that the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has postponed until the fall, trying to stage a Quarter Horse meet in late summer and then prepare for a Thoroughbred meet in November would either (a) cause Jazz Fest to move to another location or (b) change the local racing calendar for the fall.

PGA Tour events have been canceled or postponed through May.

The Masters and PGA Championship are likely moving to the fall and other PGA Tour events between now and early May have been canceled.

One of those events to fall victim to the cancellations is our own Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which was scheduled for late April. Earlier, Korn Ferry Tour stops in Lafayette and Lake Charles had been canceled.

Besides the opportunity for New Orleanians to see the greatest players in the world compete in the Tour’s only team format event, the Fore!Kids Foundation contributed significantly – more than $2 million last year and $9 million in the last five years – to charities throughout the area. Those dollars that non-profits annually could expect to help their operations will drop or disappear in 2020.

The Louisiana Open held just outside Lafayette each March performed a similar civic duty in Acadiana.

For the golf fan, it will be interesting to see how the revised calendar shakes out and where you will watch these events. When the Masters and PGA shift to the fall, how does CBS – the rightsholder for both tournaments – show these events, college football and the NFL on the same weekend?

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It seems like a year since events began to be canceled from the outbreak of COVID-19, but it’s only been eight days. These questions will get answered in due time, but we already know one answer – this sports year will be unlike any other in our lifetimes.

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

Sales/Content/Production

Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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