906-293-8401 nbynews@jamadots.com

By Dan Hardenbrook

With the recent shutdowns in the world of sports, many people have been left to wonder what’s next. I’ve heard from quite a few people, from fellow sports fans to parents, coaches, and kids. Some want to know when they will see their favorite stars. Others want to know when they will be back in action. Parents are hoping and praying that their kids will play again. And for the local athletes, especially the seniors, they are seeing the final season of their prep careers held up in uncertainty. It’s the number one question, the hot topic of conversation with almost everyone I see professionally. “So…what do you think they’ll do? What will happen next?”

Let me briefly touch on professional sports. They are the largest of uncertainties. Money will do that. These are billion-dollar industries, fueled by multi-million dollar athletes. Because of the vast reach, the impact is felt in more ways than one. Large-scale sports draw big-time crowds and that is where it’s most complicated. Will owners, commissioners, and coaches look at their teams or think outside the box? I fear that some may see that the 10-15 players on their roster are fine and move forward. I think that would be short-sighted. But owners are already worried about their business. Leagues are already concerned about paying players. I fear that may put more pressure on them to play. I will say this: With the Olympics being postponed earlier this week, the path may be clear. The NBA and NHL seasons are almost over. Outside of the draft, the NFL has nothing scheduled until July. Baseball had it easiest because they hadn’t started yet. We are at that time in the year where everything is almost over or far from starting. I hate to say it but pro and college sports are stuck on the bench until further notice. But believe this, when they do start back up, they will be the driving force in getting people back on track.

The local sports scene impacts us the most. MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl has stated that many of the association’s decisions are directly based on the status of schools in the state. When the MHSAA first announced they would keep playing but not in front of fans, many held out hope, but the state quickly moved the next day to shut down the tournaments completely. That decision came on the heels of Gov. Whitmer’s mandate to close the schools. The MHSAA didn’t see how it made sense to play school-based sports when the schools themselves were not open. So my guess is that we won’t see the Indians or the Eagles as long as Newberry, Engadine, and all the others are still closed. However, the tight timeline, and where we sit in the calendar, still has me holding out hope. The MHSAA has said that if things continue the way they are now, and schools stay closed for the rest of the school year, there would be very little sense in spring sports, even though they are mostly outside. In a recent radio interview Uyl said that at some point they will need to shift the focus to being prepared and making sure things don’t stretch out until the fall sports season. So it’s simple: No School. No Sports.

But what if they come back. Schools are the centerpieces of their communities. Seniors still need to meet requirements to graduate. Students at all levels have had their development disrupted. They need to be back on track ASAP. I fear for those students who may just see the school year end and then get thrown right into the next grade this fall. Not all are ready.

Schools are setting the tone for other industries. The need is there and that means slight hope for sports. If schools do come back (and let me stress that I don’t think they will) there will be one possible way to play. Just my opinion…Push the start date for spring sports back to May 1st. Most of us in the U.P. won’t be ready to play before then anyway with the snow still here. The seasons already stretch into summer so that’s no big deal. That leaves the last two weeks of April to wrap up what’s left over from winter. Girl’s basketball had one week left, the boys could be condensed and be done in 10 days. The only question is how long teams would need, or want, to get ready. Other sports could finish, too, such as gymnastics and swimming and diving, which were finishing the weekend it all went away.

It wouldn’t be ideal, but it would get us all back in the game.