By Joseph Hayes
It’s the hope that everyone had awaited.
On Friday, the Michigan High School Athletic Association announced it would begin the upcoming school year opening its fall sports year as traditionally scheduled.
But the MHSAA will also have contingency plans in place due to the spread of COVID-19.
Advertisements - Click the Speaker Icon for Audio
“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 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 released a statement Friday with its ideas for the upcoming school year.
The Council will meet again July 29 for further discussion. Football practices are currently scheduled to begin Aug. 10, with all other Fall sports to begin practice Aug. 12.
The MHSAA said it is moving forward with plans for fall sports to begin as scheduled. If a situation were deemed necessary, it said the start of some or all of sports practices and competitions could be delayed.
The next step in the plan’s progression would call for lower-risk Fall sports that can be played, with higher-risk Fall sports postponed until later in the school year.
The release said if all Fall sports had to be suspended, they would be rescheduled during a reconfigured calendar that would start with winter sports beginning in November, followed by the conclusion of the Fall and spring sports seasons potentially extending into July 2021.
The Council had considered a plan that would have swapped traditional fall and spring sports, but determined it wasn’t feasible.
Football, girls volleyball, girls swimming and 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 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.
The MHSAA staff said it 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 supports 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.