LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 15: Empty seats are seen in the stands during the international friendly match between England and Sweden at Wembley Stadium on November 15, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

While there are far greater concerns, the effect that the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak could have on the world of professional and college sports is starting to become clear. And we may just be getting started.

We’ve already seen professional sports leagues (Italy’s Serie A) and U.S. colleges cancel games over health concerns. Serie A is also removing fans from the equation to cut down on crowd transmission possibilities. There are serious concerns about canceling or postponing the Olympics in Tokyo. The Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship was recently canceled due to the threat of the coronavirus as well.

And there are myriad other sporting events and leagues that are taking hypothetical scenarios and grappling with the notion that they’re going to have to put them in motion out of an abundance of caution against spreading the disease.

The NHL’s first major move, per ESPN, is to close locker room access to the media. This new policy could be in effect as soon as Saturday and comes on a recommendation from the CDC. Instead of locker room access, the media would be able to speak with players and coaches during formal press conferences and in that surrounding area.

ESPN also noted that league deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL was “starting to explore contingency plans” for the possibility that the coronavirus becomes a greater health threat in North America ahead of the playoffs. That could include anything from postponing games to canceling games to playing them in empty arenas.

In the NBA, The Athletic’s Shams Charania is reporting that the league sent a memo to all teams that, if necessary, they should be prepared for the possibility of playing in front of empty arenas. Per ESPN, the memo also noted that clubs should be prepared for the possibility of having temperature checks of players, staff, referees and other essential personnel.

Some NBA players have already voiced their concerns over the idea of playing in empty arenas, scoffing at the notion.

“Nah, that’s impossible,” James said after the Lakers’ 113-103 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. “I ain’t playing. If I ain’t got the fans in the crowd, that’s what I play for. 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 there? I ain’t playing. So, they could do what they want to do.”

“That would be terrible,” [Celtics guard Kemba Walker] said. “That would be boring. They might as well cancel the whole game before that. That would suck. But at the end of the day, it is getting serious. I don’t know. It would be very weird though for sure.”

Shams also reported that the NBA is considering limited media access in the locker room as well.

With conference tournaments tipping off and March Madness looming, the NCAA and college conferences are also on high alert about the ways the coronavirus could alter games and media interactions. The Big Ten Network recently decided that its studio show would not be broadcast on-site from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis next week. In Division III, one men’s basketball tournament at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore is playing games without any fans in attendance. And Stanford University is limiting attendance at its venues to one-third of capacity, per the San Francisco Chronicle.

There has been no official word yet about how the NCAA will handle media and fan interactions. NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline did tell the Wall Stree Journal that their worst-case scenario involves no spectators and player screenings before each game. No word on how media access would be effected but you’d have to imagine it would be similar to plans by the NHL and NBA.

[ESPN, Shams Charania, Wall Stree Journal]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to