College Lacrosse Survived Spanish Flu, WWI and Will Survive COVID-19

(Photo Courtesy of Virginia Athletics)

Around the nation, college football teams and conferences are scrambling to adjust their schedules, protocols, and even outright cancelling the 2020 season due to the Coronavirus Outbreak, which ended the 2020 college lacrosse season prematurely.

And as fall sports scramble, many are already starting to look ahead to February and trying to see if college lacrosse will happen during the spring of 2021. And while it is way too early to make outlandish predictions and statements pertaining to the cancelation of the upcoming season, it is worth noting that fall ball will not happen for multiple schools and there more may be in that same boat soon. 

But as far as the 2021 season goes, it is very much up in air at this point. Things could change drastically either way from now until February 1st. And from where we sit right now, college lacrosse is very likely to happen and it won’t be the first time that the college lacrosse season has been played amid a massive virus. 

From 1917-1919 the nation was ravaged by the Spanish Flu epidemic and World War I. But college lacrosse was still played, despite some programs shutting down for a brief period. Harvard, and Hobart didn’t field teams in either 1917 or 1918, while Johns Hopkins only played two games (Alumni & Carlisle Institute) and Yale didn’t play at all in 1917 only. Cornell suspended their program the longest, suspending play in 1917 and not returning until 1920. 

While those schools and some others suspended their programs during the War and Influenza years, many continued to play full schedules, which were four to six games on average in those days. 

During the 1917 season, Lehigh was named Co-National Champions along with Stevens Tech. Lehigh went 4-0, defeating Penn State, Carlisle Institute, Swarthmore, and Penn to win the USILL Southern Division. Stevens Tech was the only active Northern Division team, thus winning the division by default. 1918 and 1919 saw a very similar situation, as Johns Hopkins won the national title in both years. During 1918, Yale and Stevens Tech were the only two Northern Division teams to play. Things returned to more normalcy in 1919, as only a few Northern Division teams held out and by 1920 things were pretty much back to normal. 

All this to say, college lacrosse has survived something very similar to what the world is facing today. Was it a different time? Yes. Did we likely know less about viruses back then and is the COVID-19 different than the Spanish Flu? Absolutely. And while the concerns over spreading the virus warranted, lacrosse can certainly survive it. 

If the Coronavirus is still ravaging at a similar or slightly lesser pace than it is now in the spring, conferences will likely put the same protocols in place that they have for fall sports. That could mean conference only schedules, trimmed down rosters or traveling parties, limited to no fan access, and regularly testing. 

The CAA has already put out some sort of guidelines on spring sport championships. 

In that kind of environment, players will be much, much more safer than they would if they weren’t playing and either attending school on campus or online. Players want to play and many of them will do anything to be on that field. And that includes abstaining from large social gatherings off campus with people who aren’t under the same restrictions as them. 

So in a sense, if things are the same as they are now come February, it might be in the best interest of many players and coaches to play rather than to not play. And if any conferences decide to not play spring sports in 2021, it will likely be the conferences in the north that jump to such ludicrous decisions. However, some players may independently decide to opt out. That’s just a fact and you’ve gotta respect their decision if things come to that. 

2021 could very well see a repeat of what college lacrosse had from 1917-1919 where the majority of schools in the souther half of the sports footprint play, but many in the north decide to hold back. That would likely mean the Ivy league and Patriot League wouldn’t play but conferences like the ACC and SoCon might. 

Things could get very messy later this fall and winter as far as college lacrosse is concerned, but hopefully we don’t even get to that point and college lacrosse is able to go forward with 2021 season as planned. 

4 thoughts on “College Lacrosse Survived Spanish Flu, WWI and Will Survive COVID-19

  1. Why did you ignore the fact that facilities and staff will be tough to get with fall and potentially winter sports playing?

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    1. Winter sports is usual to still be playing in Feb and March. Fall sports aren’t happening in the spring. You can’t have two seasons in an eight month period. Only way that could happen is a shortened three-month Jan-March season for fall, which I can’t see happening.

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      1. Pretty sure you still can. A truncated fall season in spring followed by a less-truncated fall season next fall that starts in October for ample recovery and training.

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