Coronavirus: The NFL is Immune, For Now

Is there a precedent for the effect that the coronavirus is having on the sports world?

There actually is — World War II.

The Indianapolis 500 was not held from 1942 through 1945, all inclusive — and in golf, there was no Masters in 1943 through 1945, no U.S. Open from 1942 through 1945, and no British Open from 1940 through 1945 due to Britain having entered the war at its outset in September of 1939. The PGA Championship, however, was canceled only in 1943.

Tennis, however, was effected more greatly — again because of the earlier date of other countries entering the war: the was no Wimbledon or French Open from 1940 through 1945, and no Australian Open from 1941 through 1945 — but the U.S. Open went on uninterrupted.

And there was no Olympics — Summer or Winter — in either 1940 or 1944 (the Summer and Winter Games were held the same year through 1992).

As for horse racing, the prestigious Saratoga summer meeting was canceled in 1943, 1944 and 1945 (the racing was transferred to Belmont Park) and on the West Coast, the turf did not meet the surf at Del Mar in 1942, 1943, 1944, or 1945.

So far as our team sports go, they went on throughout the war, although the NBA did not exist at that time. But not without a few definite hitches: many Major League Baseball players were either drafted or, more commonly, voluntarily enlisted in the military, leaving the then 16 teams scrambling to fill rosters (the Reds going so far as to sign 15-year-old lefty pitcher Joe Nuxhall, who was, and still remains, the youngest MLB player ever), leading to a "parity" not seen in baseball before, and not since until recently: the St. Louis Browns — the present Baltimore Orioles — had finished both double-digit games below .500 and in the American League's "second division" for 12 consecutive years before Pearl Harbor, but third or higher in three of the four war years, including winning the AL pennant in 1944 (losing to the crosstown rival Cardinals in the World Series, in six games). After the war, the team, which moved to Baltimore in 1954, promptly resumed their losing ways, with 14 straight second-division finishes.

Things in the NFL did get a little messy during the war — as in two franchises merging in 1943, 1944 and 1945, the Steelers being one of them in the first two instances, with the Eagles in the 1943 — the Phil-Pitt "Steagles" — and the then-Chicago Cardinals in 1944 — "Card-Pitt," which went 0-10, as did the Brooklyn Tigers — the last time any non-expansion team went winless in a non-strike year until the 2008 Lions. The Tigers were the same franchise as the Brooklyn Dodgers, who played under that moniker from 1930 through 1943; in 1945, the Tigers and the Boston Yanks, a 1944 expansion team, merged (after the war, the franchise played in Boston only through 1948).

Fast-forwarding to the present, free agency in the NFL will begin on Wednesday, as planned — but the draft, originally scheduled for April 23-25 in Las Vegas, will be held both at a later date and at a different venue. In addition, the first offseason owners meeting, originally scheduled for West Palm Beach, Florida, from March 29 through April 1, has been scrapped, and the league has banned all in-person, pre-draft visits involving draft-eligible players, while 15 teams have curtailed travel by their coaches and scouts due to the virus — but the players' union's vote on the proposed collective bargaining agreement was conducted after two delays on Saturday, with the NFLPA agreeing both to expand the playoffs to 14 teams (as expected) effective in 2020, and to lengthen the regular-season schedule from 16 games to 17 (maybe as not expected), presumably in 2021.

But relatively speaking at least, like Gene Chandler's "Duke of Earl," nothing can stop the NFL.

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