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How past events have impacted CU Buffs athletics

The last major shut down at the University of Colorado came during World War II

Boulder Creek is completely over its banks everywhere, including at the Folsom Street intersection here.
For more flooding videos and photos,
Cliff Grassmick  / September 13, 2013
Boulder Creek is completely over its banks everywhere, including at the Folsom Street intersection here. For more flooding videos and photos, Cliff Grassmick / September 13, 2013

Most years, there is a day or two when major sports aren’t on the docket.

The day after Major League Baseball’s All-Star game is often quiet, with no games to watch or scores to follow, as the NFL, NBA and NHL are in the offseason and baseball enjoys a short rest.

Aside from that, there’s not much that brings sports to a halt.

In the history of athletics at the University of Colorado, a few events have altered the schedule over the years, including the Colorado floods in 2013, the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and the assassination of president John F. Kennedy in 1963.

World-wide concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus have caused an unprecedented situation, however. All major professional and college sports have been shut down for the foreseeable future, including all spring sports at CU and other colleges around the country.

The last time there was a major shut down at CU came during World War II, but even that didn’t cancel everything.

Here’s a look at how CU sports have been impacted by past events:

Paul Aiken / The Boulder Daily Camera
Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce talked about how his team dealt with the flooding that cause a game to be canceled in 2013.

Colorado floods, September 2013: CU canceled a football game against Fresno State that was scheduled for Sept. 14 and later replaced it with an October game against Charleston Southern. Because the Buffs had a bye for the week of Sept. 21, the floods really only impacted one game. Other sports were minimally impacted, as the soccer team moved a home game against Denver to the Pioneers’ field in Denver and the volleyball team continued with a scheduled out-of-state tournament. That Fresno State game, by the way, is finally on the schedule again this year, slated as the Buffs’ home opener on Sept. 12.

Terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: College and pro sports around the country took a back seat in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, which came on a Tuesday morning and shut down most sports the rest of the week. CU had a nonconference football game against Washington State canceled; it was later played in 2004, ironically on Sept. 11, in Seattle instead of Pullman, Wash. The Buffs resumed their regular schedule the next week by hosting Kansas. Other sports were put on hold as well, but were back in action a week after the attacks.

Gulf War, August 1990-February 1991: More security was on hand for Super Bowl XXV that January, but college sports were not greatly impacted. CU football played on as scheduled and won a national title that season, while men’s and women’s basketball also continued as scheduled.

JFK assassination, Nov. 22, 1963: CU was scheduled to play at Air Force the next day, Nov. 23, but the two schools postponed the game until Dec. 7. About 35,000 fans were expected for the Nov. 23 game at the Academy and AFA officials originally said the game would go on as scheduled before postponing what was the regular season finale for both teams. According to news reports at the time, the armed services were ordered to “cancel social activities and entertainment” for 30 days Kennedy’s death, so Air Force needed permission from Washington, D.C., to reschedule the game. CU also needed to get permission from the Big Eight Conference, which prohibited regularly scheduled football games after Dec. 5. Both sides got permission and they played on Dec. 7 in front of 26,016 fans. Air Force rallied for a 17-14 win.

World War II, 1942-44: Although WWII began in 1939, the United States didn’t enter the war until after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. CU and many teams played full football schedules throughout the war, although many of the student-athletes were called to duty. CU’s travel in football was also limited; from 1943-45, the Buffs played out of state just four times (three times in Utah, once in New Mexico). The biggest impact at CU came in men’s basketball, as the 1942-43 and 1943-44 seasons were canceled, as the Navy was using CU’s facilities for training. Balch Fieldhouse, where the basketball team played, was used as sleeping quarters for the Navy. According to CU sports information director David Plati, there were several college basketball arenas around the country that were used by the military.

Joe Mills, Colorado football coach from 1918-19

Influenza pandemic (Spanish flu), 1918: Throughout much of World War I, from 1914-17, CU and most schools continued to play full football schedules, although many of the student-athletes did serve in the war. In 1918, the final year of the war, first-year CU head coach Joe Mills took over a team that had just one returning letterman, Les Eastman, because of military service. Three key players were taken away from the Buffs before the season when the War Department called them to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. It was the flu pandemic that caused the 1918 season, which normally started in October, to begin late, however. The pandemic was the most severe in recent history, with about a third of the world population becoming infected and roughly 675,000 deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In early October of 1918, the flu was spreading quickly and CU abandoned football. State health officials then banned public gatherings and closed many schools, including CU. After being closed for five weeks, CU re-opened on Nov. 11, while state schools had to revise their football schedules. CU began its shortened season with a 9-0 loss to Northern Colorado on Nov. 16. The Silver and Gold, as the Buffs were known then, played their entire five-game schedule in a three-week period and without traveling any farther than Denver. College football was really the only major sport impacted. The Major League Baseball season was over in early September and the NHL season began on time in late December. The NFL and NBA did not yet exist. The CU basketball team, also coach by Mills, basically played a full season, although it started on Feb. 1, a couple weeks later than usual.

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