Photo: Detroit News

High school football practice was set to begin Aug. 10 and it still will on that day with practice sessions consisting of conditioning, physical training and skill work with no other player equipment except helmets

   The Michigan High School Athletic Association announced that the 2020-21 fall high school sports season will still be played, but with some delays in practices and games in an update released by the association on Wednesday, July 29.

   The MHSAA’s representative council approved a plan to phase in competition for fall sports in hopes of continuing to deter the spread of COVID-19.

   The plan remains reliant on progression by regions across the state according to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan. Currently, Regions 6 and 8 — which include the Upper Peninsula and 17 counties in northern Michigan -- are the only regions in Phase 5, which allows for outdoor sports and limited indoor activity. The rest of the regions in the Lower Peninsula are currently in Phase 4, which allows outdoor sports but doesn't allow indoor training, practice or competition. This means that girls swimming and diving, volleyball and boys water polo (a non-MHSAA sanctioned sport) will not be able to be played this fall until the state reaches Phase 5.

   No sports will be allowed to be played if the state moves back to Phase 3.

   The council affirmed that lower-risk sports – girls golf in the Lower Peninsula, boys tennis in the Lower Peninsula, and girls tennis and cross country in the Upper Peninsula, cross country and girls swimming and diving in the Lower Peninsula – may begin practice on Wednesday, Aug. 12, and begin competition on their traditional start dates of Wednesday, Aug. 19, and Friday, Aug. 21.

   However, moderate- and high-risk sports – football, volleyball and boys soccer – may begin practice but not competition. Decisions about competition timelines for these three sports will be made by Thursday, Aug. 20 dependent on how the spread of the virus is trending statewide.

   Practice for boys soccer and volleyball may begin on Wednesday, Aug. 12. Football will delay the start of practice with full player pads and equipment until Monday, Aug. 17.  The week of Aug. 10 may include football practice sessions consisting of conditioning, physical training and skill work with no other player equipment except helmets.  This week of acclimatization is similar to allowed summer football activities that have been ongoing for schools since June.

   The start of volleyball and swimming and diving practices are  contingent on the reopening of indoor facilities, which only is allowed if the region is in Phase 5. Currently, those two sports would be allowed in only two regions in the northern part of the state, but not in most of the Lower Peninsula. Those sports may begin their practices outdoors if not allowed to be indoors by Aug. 12.

   The council – the MHSAA’s 19-member legislative body – also voted to cancel scrimmages in all fall sports for this school year and approved limitations on numbers of teams that may compete together at regular-season tournaments, invitationals and other multi-team events. The council believed eliminating scrimmages emphasized the importance of keeping teams from mixing before the first date of competition, and the regular-season limitations may lessen opportunities for viral spread while still allowing meets to be conducted.

   “The council, reflecting on the positive impact on their athletes this summer from taking part in offseason training, feels it’s of utmost importance to continue athletic activity moving forward,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “If we take a month off, our students will find opportunities to compete through non-school entities that may not be as focused on safety. Our athletic directors and coaches can provide the safest-possible environment to return to sports, and this phased-in approach to competition will help schools continue building on progress already made. The council chose to make these adjustments to help ensure our athletes have a safe regular season this fall. As we continue to solidify the regular season, we can then turn our attention to building a safe postseason for our athletes.”

   In a press release, the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association offered its full support to the MHSAA’s plan. “We understand the decision to make the adjustments to the sport seasons and tournament plans that schools will follow for the 2020-2021 school year, was made based on the best information available at this time, and was done so in an effort to meet the health, safety, social, and emotional needs of the students in Michigan.”

   The MHSAA also released safety guidelines for returning to sports.

   The main guidelines concern protocols for teams dealing with positive cases of COVID-19. The association is recommending notifying the local health department and following their guidance. In addition to having the person with the positive test quarantine, they are also recommending anyone with close contact to that person also quarantine.

   Athletes participating on the field/court will not be required to wear face coverings but are permitted to do so. Bench personnel will be required to wear face coverings at all times – this includes athletes not currently in the game, coaches, managers, trainers, statisticians, media, and anyone else on the sideline. It is recommended that game officials wear face coverings, but it is not required when carrying out their duties. Contest management, school administrators, media and all staff will all be required to wear face coverings. Spectators will also also required to wear face coverings.

   The MHSAA will also limit the number of participants and teams at tournaments and invitationals, based on sport. For example, cross country will be limited to 70 runners at a race, girls golf will be limited to 72 competitors at an 18-hole site, and boys soccer, girls swimming and diving, boys tennis, and volleyball will be limited to no more than four teams at a site.

    Recommendations on spectator attendance will follow before the start of competition. Spectators will be limited in accordance with Gov.  Whitmer’s executive orders on large gatherings, which limits outdoor

Revised fall sports key dates:

August 10: Scheduled first day of high school football practice in Michigan, but limited to conditioning, physical training and skill work with no other player equipment except helmets.

August 12: Scheduled first day of practice in all other sports in Michigan. Practices in girls swimming and diving and volleyball will only be allowed if the area is in Phase 5. Most of the state is currently in Phase 4, where no indoor contests are allowed. Those sports can conduct outdoor practices under Phase 4.

August 17: Rescheduled first day of football practice with full player pads and equipment.

August 19: First contests allowed in girls golf and boys tennis.

August 20: MHSAA representative council meeting to make additional decisions on fall high school sports plans.

August 21: First contests allowed in boys and girls cross country, boys soccer, girls swimming and diving, and volleyball. Contests in girls swimming and diving and volleyball will only be allowed if the area is in Phase 5. Most of the state is currently in Phase 4, where no indoor contests are allowed.

 

spectators to 100 in areas in Phase 4 and 250 spectators in regions in Phase 5.

   On July 17, the council approved a return-to-activity plan for the 2020-21 school year retaining the traditional calendar of fall, winter and spring sports, but allowing for the possibility that fall sports forced to halt activity during the next four months may conclude later in the school year.

   “The easy way out would be to postpone all activity to next spring, and we are not taking the easy way out. But we will make wise decisions based on medical guidance,” Uyl said. “We will make these difficult decisions quickly and appropriately. If we don’t play this fall, it won’t be because we didn’t make every effort to do so.”

Michigan's 2020-21 Return to School Roadmap: Athletics

Phases 1-3

Spreading to flattening

Phases 1-3

Spreading to flattening

Phase 4

Improving

Phase 4

Improving

Phase 5

Containing

Phase 5

Containing

Phase 6

Post pandemic

Phase 6

Post pandemic

Pandemic status

>  The number of new cases and deaths has fallen for a period of time, but overall case levels are

still high.

> Most new outbreaks are quickly identified, traced, and contained due to robust testing infrastructure and rapid contact tracing.

> Health system capacity can typically handle these new outbreaks, and therefore case

fatality rate does not rise above typical levels.

> The overall number of infected individuals still indicate the need for distancing to stop transmission and move to the next phase.

 

School operating status

>  In-person instruction is permitted with required safety protocols.

 

Athletics status

>  All outdoor athletics are allowed with safety precautions. The fall indoor sports of volleyball, girls swimming and diving, and boys water polo are not allowed in this phase.

 

Athletics safety guidelines

Required

> Comply with all guidance published by Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

> Students, teachers, and staff must use proper hand hygiene techniques before and after every practice, event, or other gathering. Every participant should confirm that they are healthy and without any symptoms prior to any event.

> All equipment must be disinfected before and after use.

> Inter-school competitions may be held provided that, facial coverings are worn if school transportation is provided. Buses must be cleaned and disinfected before and after every use.

> Spectators are allowed provided that facial coverings are used by observers and six feet of social distancing can be maintained at all times. Attention must given to entry and exit points to prevent crowding.

> Each participant must use a clearly marked water bottle for individual use. There should be no sharing of this equipment.

> Handshakes, fist bumps, and other unnecessary contact must not occur.

> Indoor weight rooms and physical conditioning activities that require shared equipment are suspended. Outdoor physical conditioning activities are allowed while maintaining social distancing.

> Large scale indoor spectator events are suspended. Large scale outdoor spectator or stadium events are limited to 100 people, and people not part of the same household must maintain six feet of distance from one another.

Pandemic status

> Post pandemic.

> Few, if any, active COVID-19 cases locally.

> Community spread not expected to return.

> Sufficient community immunity and availability of treatment.

 

School operating status

> Schools open for in-person instruction with no required COVID-19-related safety protocols.

 

Athletics status

>  All athletics are allowed with with no required COVID-19-related safety protocols.

Pandemic status

> Community spread of the virus is increasing and substantial.

> There is concern about health system capacity.

> Testing and tracing efforts may not be sufficient to control the spread of the pandemic.

 

School operating status

>  No in-person instruction, remote only.

 

Athletics status

>  All athletics are suspended.

 

Pandemic status

> New cases and deaths continue to decrease for an additional period of time.

> At this point, the number of active cases has reached a point where infection from other members of the community is less common.

> With widespread testing, positivity rates often fall much lower than earlier phases.

> Rapid case investigation, contact tracing, and containment strategies cause new cases to continue to fall.

 

School operating status

> Schools open for in-person instruction with minimal required safety protocols.

 

Athletics status

>  All indoor and outdoor athletics are allowed with minimal required safety protocols.

 

Athletics safety guidelines

Strongly recommended

> Indoor spectator events are limited to 50 people. Large scale outdoor spectator or stadium events are limited to 250 people. Spectators not part of the same household must always maintain six feet of distance from one another.

> Students, teachers, and staff must use proper hand hygiene techniques before and after every practice, event, or other gathering.

> Every participant should confirm that they are healthy and without any symptoms prior to any event.

> All equipment must be disinfected before and after use.

> Buses must be cleaned and disinfected before and after every use.

> Each participant should use a clearly marked water bottle for individual use. There should be no sharing of this equipment.

 

Recommended

> Indoor weight rooms and physical conditioning activities are allowed. Social distancing of six feet between participants should be maintained while indoors and sharing equipment should be avoided.

> Handshakes, fist bumps, and other unnecessary contact should not occur.