Who’s up for some spring football? Though it might not be traditional, that’s what athletic directors around the state are looking at as they try planning high school sports schedules amidst the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Aug. 19, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) released its recommendations for school sports, which could include a fourth “floating season” that would fit within the traditional fall, winter, and spring seasons.
Under the recommended plan, fall sports – soccer, fall gymnastics, cross country, field hockey, girls volleyball, and golf – would take place from Sept. 18 to Nov. 20 and would not culminate in a post-season tournament. From Nov. 30 to Feb 21, winter sports such as basketball, ice hockey, wrestling, winter gymnastics, indoor track, winter cheer, and swimming and diving would take place, followed by the “floating season” from Feb. 22 to April 25, which would include sports not played during the fall season due to pandemic concerns, such as football, fall cheer, and unified basketball. The spring season would take place from April 26 to July 3 and would include baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis, boys volleyball, outdoor track, sailing, girls golf, and crew. Tournaments for winter, “fall II” and spring have not yet been determined.
The unique structure was created using guidelines set forth by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, in which athletic activities were broken into levels based on potential risk. Sports like tennis, swimming, golf, individual sailing, gymnastics, cross country, and individual crew fit into the lower risk category, as most can be done with social distancing and little to no physical contact. Falling into the moderate risk were baseball, softball, crew, sailing, track and field, team swimming, volleyball, field hockey, girls lacrosse, and soccer, all of which have the potential for “intermittent” physical contact between players.
In the higher risk category, sports in which the likelihood of close contact is greatest, were football, wrestling, basketball, lacrosse, ice hockey, and competitive cheer.
A statement from the Cape and Islands League released Aug. 20 praised the new guidelines but cautioned that “there are still several important steps that need to be taken before any member school can proceed with a sports program for the 2020-21 academic year.
According to the release, football, cheer, and unified basketball will not take place this fall per the aforementioned guidelines, but what the new schedules will look like is still unfolding, something area athletic directors have been challenged by.
Traditionally, fall schedules are in place by the end of the previous school year, giving ample time for adjustments and reschedules. This year, athletic directors at Monomoy, Cape Tech, and Nauset have been locked into something of a hurry up and wait scenario as they await further guidelines from the state and the MIAA.
“All of our fall schedules were done a long time ago,” said Nauset Athletic Director John Mattson. “That changes with the schedules having to be redone. None of those decisions have been made.”
Student safety is guiding the sports schedules, Mattson said.
“The most important thing is the health and safety of our kids,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to put anyone in a position where they’re going to jeopardize that.”
With school not starting until mid-September, when games would normally be in full swing, any scheduling done now is tentative as further decisions are pending from the MIAA, which was supposed to hold individual sports committee meetings before Aug. 25.
Monomoy Athletic Director Karen Guillemette said the uncertainties have made putting schedules together difficult.
“You plan several months in advance,” she said. “We pretty much had our fall schedules all set and ready to go. I think it’s tough on everyone, not knowing. I understand why it is as things change every day with this virus, but it’s a challenge for everybody.”
To be taken into consideration, beyond scheduling, are assigning officials, transportation to games given bus capacity restrictions, and the athletic plans of other districts. There is a possibility that schools in the Cape and Islands League will play only each other, but that hasn’t been cemented yet.
Cape Tech Athletic Director Alan Harrison said the biggest hurdle for him has been communication with everyone involved in the planning.
“The biggest challenge is keeping contact with all of the different groups, like the MIAA and the MIAA task forces that are put together to study the information that comes out weekly from the state,” he said. “It’s a ‘we don’t know’ type of scenario.”
Like the athletic directors in the Cape and Islands League, Harrison and his fellow ADs in the Mayflower League stepped up their summer meeting schedule to keep the dialog regarding school sports flowing. Right now, he said, there are more questions than answers.
“Whatever is going to happen, it would be nice to have that as soon as possible, whether it’s a shortened season, league-only, or not happening, it would be good to know,” Harrison said. “Parents know there are concerns that are priority number one. But we’re close to everything starting and kids want to know what they can expect to do once school starts. We will continue to do what is in the best interest of our students.”