Scott Baker’s Walkin’ the Sidelines: Fans not being allowed at games is tough to imagine as fall sports near

Let’s all just imagine for a few minutes what it would be like to have eggs without bacon, chili without beans, macaroni without cheese or a shower without soap.

Let’s even dare to consider what it would be like having Tom without Jerry. Wait, Tom without Jerry? Is that something that is even allowed to be considered?

You can eat eggs without bacon, chili without beans (not really) and macaroni without cheese, but what fun could that possibly be? All of those possibilities are one thing, but Tom without Jerry? Nope, not going to happen. Not on my watch.

As much as is hurts our taste buds in those examples, substitutes could be found. OK, so why a food discussion on the sports page? Glad you asked. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sports world is being forced to realize or imagine sporting events without fans.

To me, that is like a Tom-without-Jerry kind of thing. It literally hurts me to imagine such a scenario where a big game is being played and only key personnel are present to watch. Would it even be considered a big game if there’s not a huge crowd there to watch?

Games can be played without fans, but what fun would that be?

So far in professional sports, we’ve seen NASCAR return to the track with either no fans or in some cases just several thousand in attendance. There’s supposed to be well over a hundred thousand screaming fans filling the stands and an infield packed full of motor homes with many more diehards sitting on the roofs with their flags waving. While the cars race around the track, the absence of fans leaves a huge void in the NASCAR experience.

Golfers are back on the course too, but golf fans aren’t there to cheer a great shot. I do like to play golf, but watching it? I’ll leave that for another day.

Many love the sport and are now being denied the opportunity to witness traditionally big events. Anyone catch a huge crowd at the Masters this year? Me neither. That’s because that great event didn’t even happen as scheduled, but is now tentative for November. Will it happen then and will be fans in attendance? Stay tuned.

The major sports leagues — MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL — and NCAA football, among others, are now in the planning stages of returning to play. All of them seem to be formulating plans that have one thing solidly in common: no or a limited number of fans.

As painful as it may be, let’s dare to imagine for a minute what the result of that might look like. The home team hits a buzzer-beater to win the game and the crowd goes crazy. Oops, wait, there is no crowd. So is there even the usual excitement of such a play? Did it even happen?

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a noise? That’s a philosophy question that will make your head hurt.

The home team makes a huge goal-line stop in the waning moments of the contest to secure the victory. The crowd goes insane with excitement. Oops, wait, there is no crowd. A big clubber hits a walk-off grand slam to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. The crowd goes…never mind.

Ohio State at Penn State. College Game Day in Happy Valley for the annual “White Out” game. Many say that is the best spectacle in college football with 107,000 rabid fans dressed in white for the biggest night of the season. The noise is deafening. The stadium literally shakes. OK, forget that too.

Can we all just agree at this point that sporting events without fans are quite simply like Tom without Jerry? It’s hard to imagine. Doing so makes my brain hurt. However, today we are forced to consider scenarios where games will be played and no or few fans will be present to watch and share in the exciting moments.

The consideration at the professional level is rough, but TV can help to a small degree to ease the pain. At the college level, it is a bit harder to imagine, but again for the big games, TV will bring the events to millions. Sorry though, it still will not be the same.

However, when I consider high school sports without fans, I could literally cry. How would that even work? Kids participating in events without their families there to support them? Kids participating without their friends there to cheer them on? High school events without the big rivalry environment? No way. Those things don’t even begin to sound right.

Fans are a huge part of every sporting event. Yes, you can play games without fans but let’s face it, the fans help to make events the entertainment experience that they are.

We now find ourselves in an environment where at the scholastic level, we are beginning to discuss returning to play after the shutdowns of sports caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Return to play policies are being designed to allow athletes and teams to resume workouts. Many limitations are present because of the precautions within the guidelines.

For now, there are several stages designed for a ramping up to the fall sports season. The purpose of the return to play policies is to ensure that athletes are prepared for play when the time comes. However, what is not in those guidelines is what the stands will look like when the games begin. Admittedly many things can — and likely will — occur between now and September when the regular fall sports season begins. Therefore, any guidelines put in place now would likely need changed by then anyway.

Let’s all hope and pray that one thing that changes is that an environment exists for high school and all sports for that matter to see major events with full stadiums.

Crowd noise…oh yes, those crowd noise meters. You’ve got to love them.

Anything short of full stadiums will just not seem right. For now, I’m heading to the kitchen to grab a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The reason for the jelly? A peanut butter sandwich without the jelly just wouldn’t be right.

It would resemble sporting events without fans and Tom without Jerry.


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