By Geoff Kimmerly
LANSING — Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools will begin the 2020-21 school year playing Fall sports as traditionally scheduled, but with contingency concepts for potential interruptions due to the spread of COVID-19.
The MHSAA Representative Council, the Association’s 19-member legislative body, met virtually with MHSAA staff Wednesday (July 15) to discuss a series of ideas for playing sports beginning in August. The Council will meet again July 29 for further discussion. Currently, high school football practices are scheduled to begin Aug. 10, with all other Fall sports to start practice Aug. 12.
The MHSAA is moving forward with a plan that first calls for all Fall sports to be started and played as scheduled. However, if the situation deems it necessary, the start of some or all Fall sports practices or competitions could be delayed. The next step in the plan’s progression calls for lower-risk Fall sports that can be played to be completed, with higher-risk Fall sports postponed until later in the school year. If all Fall sports must be suspended, they will be rescheduled during a reconfigured calendar that would see Winter sports begin in November followed by the conclusion of Fall and Spring seasons potentially extending into July 2021.
Additionally, the Council considered a concept that would swap traditional Fall and Spring sports, but determined that was not a feasible plan. Football, girls volleyball, girls swimming & diving and boys soccer during the Fall are considered moderate or high-risk sports because they include athletes in close contact or are played indoors; they were considered the impetus for potentially switching all Fall sports to Spring. But traditional Spring sports – girls soccer and girls and boys lacrosse – carry similar risk, negating the value of making that full season switch. Moving only selected Spring sports, like all low-risk to Fall, was not considered sound because it would force student-athletes to pick between sports they’ve previously played.
Plans remain reliant on progression by schools and regions across the state according to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan. Currently two regions are in Phase 5, which allow for limited indoor activity, while the rest are in Phase 4 and unable to host indoor training, practice or competition.
“Our student-athletes just want to play, and we’ve gone far too long without them playing. But doing so safely, of course, remains the priority,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “Our plan moving forward is Fall in the Fall, starting on time. We’re excited to continue moving forward to bring back sports safely. It’s important for keeping students in our schools and keeping students in our sports programs.
“We remain grateful to the Governor for the opportunity to build the schedule and policies for returning sports to schools. We will continue to support her directives and those of the state and local health departments as we work to create the safest environment for all involved in our activities.”
The MHSAA staff is building COVID-related policies for all Fall sports and will make those guidelines and precautions available to member schools as the season approaches. Those policies will follow up what was presented to schools for summer offseason training, which began June 1 across the state and has seen thousands of student-athletes participate.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.