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What if they played the Final Four and no fan could attend?

What if the same thing happened at the Masters?

Or this week's SEC men's basketball tournament in Nashville?

Or a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic event?

What if the coronavirus shuts down almost every sporting event in this country to the ticket-buying public for the foreseeable future?

You say it can't happen? It's already happening. All over the world.

A Series A soccer match between visiting Juventus and Inter Milan was played in an empty stadium Sunday. The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California — a tennis tourney many refer to as the fifth major — was canceled Sunday before play was scheduled to begin later this week. A few NCAA lower-division basketball games were staged in empty gyms this past weekend.

Though they have yet to take such drastic measures, the big dogs with the NBA and Major League Baseball reportedly are weighing their options as the virus spreads across the country, now no longer limited to those who came in contact with people traveling from foreign lands.

As Kentucky governor Steve Beshear noted Monday of the six cases now reported in the Bluegrass State: "We believe, and this seems to be the case nationally, that this is community spreading. Again, this has been expected. We are ready for it. It was what we always thought we would see with this novel coronavirus."

His point? It's now being spread from person to person in this country, not unlike the flu or a common cold. It's no longer confined to coming in contact with someone who caught it while visiting abroad.

And that's undeniably scary. Especially for older folks or those with compromised immune systems. According to CNN on Monday night, the current death toll has now topped 3,800 of the more than 108,000 cases worldwide.

But that also means the vast majority of people are recovering. Still, the opinions from some in the sports community seem to lack both sensitivity and maturity.

There was Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James proclaiming that he wouldn't play without fans in the stands.

"That's who I play for," he said of the fans. "I play for my teammates, I play for the fans, that's what it's all about. If I show up to an arena and there ain't no fans in there, I ain't playing."

To which the Lakers brass should quickly respond, "If you ain't playing, we ain't paying."

Then there was the increasingly grumpy UConn Huskies women's coach Geno Auriemma, he of the 11 NCAA championships, most in the history of college hoops, men's or women's.

After a semifinal American Athletic Conference tourney win over South Florida on Sunday, Geno said of the AAC's new "no handshake" edict: "The conference has a policy that you can't shake hands after games. Well, we did today anyway. Our men played Houston the other day. They sweated on each other for two hours, and then they weren't allowed to shake hands."

He later added, "Our assistant, Sarah (Darras), her son is a wrestler. They wrestled for I don't know how long on this dirty mat and they go, 'No shaking hands.' I mean, come on. ... Don't get me started."

Technically, he's probably right. When you've been facing each other in such close quarters in a sports contest, you've probably been exposed to whatever you're going to be exposed to long before the handshake line.

But think about this: For those watching at home, seeing the lack of handshakes and probably being told the reason why by those announcing the game, they might be more inclined to follow best health practices moving forward. They might think, "Oh, yeah, I need to remember that when I go to the store tonight."

We all think we're bulletproof on matters such as this. It won't happen to me. The odds are in my favor.

And odds are, you won't get it. Or at least it won't kill you.

But we're also in the early stages of this in this country. We don't yet know how bad it can get. How quickly it can spread. Whether or not it could morph into something worse.

Though there's not yet a logical reason for widespread panic, there is much reason to use extreme caution.

As UTC athletic department spokesman Jay Blackman noted Monday evening: "The university has been constantly monitoring the situation, but as of right now, all events will continue as planned."

There are serious concerns that, at least in Europe, where the boiling point from all corners seems much closer to reality, much of the Series A season may be canceled rather than temporarily played in empty stadiums.

To that possibility, Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri said Sunday, his words having much common sense: "The know-it-alls scare me. I can't say what's right to do. But I ask myself if it's right to take away a two-hour diversion in front of the television for those who have to stay at home."

Indeed, whether fans are in the stands or not, whether LeBron plays or not, having the games in any form could serve as a much-needed break, however far from perfect, from the scariest worldwide medical threat we've experienced since the onset of AIDS in the 1980s.

But this partial tweet from tennis phenom CoCo Gauff also bears revisiting: "So sad to hear the news about the postponing of the @BNPPARIBASOPEN. I was so excited to make my debut (at Indian Wells), but safety is always the no. 1 priority."

At least it should be.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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Mark Wiedmer

 

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