Written by Rob Sherrill, WIN High School Columnist
Note: Rob Sherrill continues to provide updates on what different states are doing in planning competitions in wrestling and other sports as the states deal with the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Updating the current count, including the District of Columbia are what states have planned:
• Starting all fall sports on schedule: 17
• Playing all fall sports in the fall, with late starts or reduced seasons: 16
• Playing some fall sports in the fall, football and/or other fall sports in the spring: 11
• Playing some fall sports in the fall, not playing football: 1
• Playing all sports after Jan. 1: 6
Dual state tournament out in Ohio
Wrestling is taking some hits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, most of those hits are related to its unfortunate standing atop the high-risk sports list. In Ohio, however, wrestling will take its second state tournament hit in as many years.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced on Sept. 3 that budget cuts will force the suspension of the dual state wrestling tournament after seven seasons. The individual state tournament, a casualty of the pandemic last March, will continue.
OHSAA interim executive director Bob Goldring said that approximately 80 percent of association revenue comes from state tournament gate receipts, a revenue model similar to that of most other state associations. Cuts approved by the OSSAA’s Board of Directors included reductions in administrative positions, and salaries and benefits to remaining staff.
Added Goldring: “The prospect of conducting all of our tournaments for the 2020-21 school year with spectator capacity limits of 15 percent, with no more than 1,500 permitted for outdoor events and 300 for indoor events, has already had a significant financial impact on the association. We have explored new, untraditional revenue streams that could prove to be beneficial, but those are not guaranteed with the status of the world’s economy and no real end in sight for the pandemic.”
Michigan reinstates fall football
On Sept. 3, Michigan became the first of 17 states (and the District of Columbia) to reverse a decision to move football to the spring.
That day, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued Executive Order 176, lifting restrictions that previously had not allowed football to be played. The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Representative Council then voted to reinstate the fall season after moving it to the spring on Aug. 14.
Beginning Sept. 18, teams will play a six-game regular season, beginning with their originally-scheduled Week 4 contests. All teams in 11- and 8-man football will qualify for the playoffs, with the 8-man championship games scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 27-28 and the 11-man finals the weekend of Dec. 4-5. All other fall tournaments will be conducted as previously scheduled. Practice in full pads begins Sept. 10.
Executive Order 176 also allows competition in boys soccer, Lower Peninsula girls swimming and girls volleyball starting on Sept. 9 for schools located in Regions 1-5 and 7 based on the MI Safe Start Plan. It also sets spectator limits of two per participant for outdoor and indoor events in Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start Plan.
Vermont replaces 11-man football with 7-on-7
On Sept. 25, Vermont’s 30 football-playing high schools kick off a unique 7-on-7 touch football season.
Following those openers, teams will play two games each week over a four-week period, for a nine-game regular season.
The Vermont Interscholastic Football League’s approach also eliminates the state’s three classifications. With no tackling and interior lineman not playing their normal positions, reducing the effect of school size, and in an effort to reduce travel, teams have been divided into four geographic regions: Burlington, Hartford, Rutland and St. Johnsbury.
On Aug. 11, during Gov. Phil Scott’s semi-weekly COVID-19 news conference, Vermont Principals Association executive director Jay Nichols had announced the cancellation of 11-man football for 2020. The association then began considering a 7-on-7 alternative that was adopted by the VISL, which administers football in the state.
Other restrictions in place for fall sports include mandatory mask use by all athletes – during both practices and games – outdoor-only volleyball matches, a limit of 150 on spectator attendance and the likelihood that competitions won’t begin until about two weeks after school starts on Sept. 8. Cross country is mask-exempt – as long as staggered starts are employed and distancing between competitors is maintained.
Connecticut shelves fall football due to DPH opposition
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has worked tirelessly over the past couple of months in an attempt to make the 2020 football season a reality. On Sept. 3, however, still having failed to gain the approval of the state’s Department of Public Health, the CIAC announced that the 2020 season will not take place.
Said the CIAC on its web site: “DPH has made it clear that it is unlikely to support higher risk activities for the fall term. Without DPH support, the CIAC cannot move forward with a full contact season as it would place superintendents and boards of education in the impossible position of acting against the recommendation of a state agency.”
Instead, the CIAC will collaborate with athletic directors, coaches, and medical experts to provide football players with “meaningful low to moderate risk fall activities,” in alignment with DPH recommendations.
Still on the CIAC’s plate: the battle to get girls volleyball, also opposed by the DPH without modifications, back on the court. In an Aug. 13 letter to the CIAC, the DPH stated: “Although there is infrequent close contact between opposing players involved with this sport, the fact that activities for this sport are occurring indoors and involve significant physical exertion and forceful communication with teammates, the risk for person‐to‐person spread of infectious droplets is elevated for this specific sport.”
In an Aug. 28 response, the CIAC, which has already ruled out the option of outdoor volleyball, inquired whether DPH would support the play of indoor volleyball where all participants wear masks as a mitigating strategy that addresses the concern of indoor moderate risk sports. A response from the DPH is pending.
In volleyball, as with other fall sports that have already been approved to be contested, only low-risk activities would occur until Sept. 21. Moderate-risk activities would be permitted starting on Sept. 21 and competition on Oct. 1, if prevailing COVID metrics were to support such activities.
Rhode Island moves football, volleyball to the spring
Michigan out, Rhode Island in.
On Sept. 4, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League announced a four-season plan that moves football and volleyball from the fall to the spring. Those sports will be contested in the new Season 3, which will take place between the winter season (Season 2) and the spring season (Season 4). The start date is yet to be announced.
Gov. Gina Raimondo signed off on five other fall sports with modifications: cross country, tennis, soccer, field hockey and sideline cheer. The RIIL’s Principals Committee on Athletics voted to delay the starting date of those sports from Sept. 14 to Sept. 21.
Arizona receives go-ahead to start fall sports
The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Executive Board voted on Oct. 2 to endorse the latest guidelines proposed by its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, paving the way for the fall sports season to begin. The state’s recorded number of COVID-19 cases had declined over the previous two weeks.
Competition has begun in golf, and practice has begun in cross country, swimming, badminton, fall soccer and volleyball; they begin phased competition the second, third and fourth weeks of September. Football practice began Sept. 7, with games starting on Oct. 2.
With the late starts, postseason qualifying in all fall sports will be modified, with those modifications to be announced. Decision on whether to admit fans will be made locally, based on district phase-in plans.
Although the winter sports season will begin one week later than usual to accommodate the late start of the fall season, winter sports championships are scheduled to conclude as planned.
Maine seasons pushed back again
With the start of fall practices already delayed three weeks to Sept. 8, the Maine Principals Association proposed a return-to-play plan on Aug. 28 in an effort to meet that timeline.
The plan was met with requests for additional modifications by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. As part of its compliance effort, the MPA delayed the start of practice a second time, until Sept. 15.
If the modifications are approved, competitions are set to begin on Sept. 25, with the football season to start on Oct. 2. If sports are played this fall, all of the seasons will be shortened. Football could extend as late as mid-November.
Delaware amends Executive Order
On Sept. 2, Gov. John Carney signed into law the 26th modification of Delaware’s State of Emergency regarding COVID-19. The order extends to “all youth and amateur adult sports facilities, organizations and leagues,” including the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees high school sports.
The order, which applies to sports in all three risk categories: “Facilities, leagues or organizers that will host indoor sports…must have a plan approved by DPH. Tournaments are not permitted until plans for the tournaments are approved by DPH. Plans must address face coverings, social distancing, ventilation, and other applicable requirements. Plans must also include a method to collect contact information for all players, staff, coaches, officials and spectators, as well as team rosters and game schedules to assist with contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 infection.”
To no one’s surprise, wrestling is in the high risk category, as are sports that, per the modification, “involve sustained or repeated close contact of athletes with one another.” Wrestling is not alone, however. It’s one of a dozen high risk sports cited by the state’s Division of Public Health, a list that also includes football and basketball.
The start of Delaware’s high school sports seasons had already been delayed to at least December, with football and wrestling not cleared to be contested.