On Wednesday, July 29th, the MHSAA came out with their most recent update regarding athletics for the 2020-2021 school year. More specifically the fall sports season.
Here is the letter that was sent to school districts statewide.
Dear MHSAA Community,
The Representative Council met this morning to discuss fall sports. Here is a summary of the action taken.
- Approved a “phased-in” approach to fall athletics.
- Eliminated scrimmages in all fall sports; the only occasions where students from different schools would be together is for official games, matches, meets and competitions.
- Finalized the fall sports guidance documents for the safe return to activity. This guidance includes general information along with sport-specific directives for students, coaches, staff, officials and media members. Spectator guidance will be added once those number of individual limits are finalized by the Governor’s office. These documents are posted at mhsaa.com on each sport page and comply with all Executive Orders from Governor Whitmer.
- New competition limits in all fall sports were approved to limit the number of teams and individuals at any one competition site. The concept is fall competition will take place as locally as possible with no large-scale events, invitationals or tournaments. See the fall sport-specific guidance documents for these limits.
- Allowed all low-risk sports to begin practice and competition as scheduled on August 12. This includes golf, tennis, cross country and swimming. Swimming can begin indoor practice and competition once pools are opened with capacity limitations being followed.
- Allowed moderate-risk sports of soccer and volleyball (pending the opening of school gyms) to begin practice as scheduled on August 12 but to delay competition. Decisions on competition timelines (to start or to delay further) would be made on or by August 20.
- Delayed the start of football practice with full player pads and equipment until Monday, August 17. The week of August 10 shall only include practice sessions that consists of conditioning, physical training and skill work but without player equipment other than helmets. This week of acclimatization (August 10-16) is similar to the allowed summer activities with helmets, only, that have been ongoing since June. Decisions on competition timelines (to start or to delay further) would be made on or by August 20.
The MHSAA will continue to be nimble and flexible in these uncertain times. The Council will be meeting regularly and we will continue to provide updates and possible modifications based on the most current information, directives from state government and health department officials and member school feedback.
“There Will Be Football This Fall” by Chris Schultz
Now many people have said, “the MHSAA should just cancel the season. What on earth are they waiting for? They are just delaying the inevitable. Why are they giving these kids false hope?”
I have personally believed that there will be football since the MHSAA came out with their “Guidance for Re-Opening School Sports” back on May 29th. My thought process behind this was that, if we are in school full-time come September 8th, we could have sports, including football.
We have been in Phase 4 since early in June and I have anticipated that we would be in Phase 5 sometime before the first official day of public school in September. I still believe this will be the case.
Now one can look at the numbers and say, “Chris the numbers are up, you are crazy to think that we will reach phase 5 anytime soon”. I would argue that the numbers are actually down, because, to me, the only number that matters is deaths. Over the last 30 days, there has been an average of 5 deaths per day in the state of Michigan. The previous 30 days prior to that were 15 deaths per day.
Now I am willing to concede that the number of Covid-19 cases has been going up in July, but the fact of the matter is, we are starting to figure this thing out. We are certainly testing more people (June 1st Michigan tested 14,477 people and 4% tested positive. On July 29th Michigan tested 65,351 while less than 3% tested positive), which will reveal more cases and while more younger people are being diagnosed with the disease, numbers show that younger people are beating this thing at greater rates. In fact, according to Reuters, the recovery rates in the United States have been trending up for months while the fatality rate has been trending down.
I for one, applaud the MHSAA for showing restraint, the easy thing to do would be to cancel this thing right now. The representative council along with the employees of the MHSAA have done their due diligence and are working hand in hand with the Governor’s office. Whether your a fan of the Governor or not, she seems to be doing what is in the best interest of everyone when it comes to returning to school in the fall.
I agree whole-heartedly with the MHSAA to eliminate pads for the first week. It also makes perfect sense to eliminate meaningless scrimmages where three to six other teams come together in what amounts to a controlled practice.
Waiting to announce on August 20th as to whether the season will start on time the weekend of August 28th makes perfect sense as well. This basically gives the Governor another 3 weeks to decide whether we move into Phase 5 or not.
Now I have a sneaky suspicion that the following will occur. If the death numbers continue at the same rate and Covid-19 positive testing percentages remain relatively low, you could see the Governor move the entire state into Phase 5 right around September 3rd or 4th. This would allow schools to pretty much open up to full-time schooling on September 8th. (Relax people, I understand that they could open as well in Phase 4. I also understand that many schools could still decide to stay with online schooling or some sort of hybrid system while in Phase 5.)
This move to Phase 5 would basically mean that the football season would open up the weekend of September 11th which would be week 3 on the football calendar. Weeks 1 and 2 would be considered no contest and the regular season would end up being 7 weeks long with the playoffs to follow. Please note, crowds would be limited to 250 spectators or less according to Phase 5 of the MI Safe Start safety protocols.
I would like to add one thing before I hand this over to my cynical friend Frank. I don’t see anything wrong with what the MHSAA has done regarding their timetable. They have given many student/athletes who had been cooped up in their homes since March 13th, some hope. And when you have been put through what many of these kids have been put through at an early age, hope can be a good thing. These kids have basically been working hard, while following “social distancing” protocol since mid-June. It sure beats having them sit in their bedrooms wondering what life is going to be like if they ever get a chance to play sports again.
I can promise you this, if football and other sports happen this fall, you will see a passion from these kids that you have never seen before. Will the play be the best? Who knows, but the effort will be there and the character that comes from facing adversity and embracing the grind will forever be etched in their fiber.
For the record, I don’t think Frank is cynical. It just seemed appropriate to add a few paragraphs ago.
“There Won’t Be Football This Fall” by Frank Vajcner
I’m going to play devil’s advocate.
I want a football season. Not only am I entering my sixth season as a football official, but my third season as a part of the blog is going to be much different.
To bring everyone up to speed, I took a position as Director of Basketball Operations at Bedford High School back in May. The expectation was that I would be more free to cover other football games during the regular season. If there’s anyone who wants COVID-19 to go the way of the buffalo, it’s me.
However, given the state of matters with the virus, coupled with announcements MHSAA has made in recent weeks, including Wednesday’s announcement, leads me to believe that it is inevitable that there will be no football this fall.
The following is why I have taken such a stance:
- We as a state are nowhere close to moving to Phase 5
When Governor Gretchen Whitmer lifted the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order back in June, I, along with many others believed that we were finally seeing a light at the end of the COVID tunnel. That belief grew when Whitmer said that she hoped to have all of Michigan in Phase 5 by July 4th.
Fast forward to today, and so far, only the Upper Peninsula and Traverse City regions have been moved to Phase 5, while the rest of the state sits at Phase 4. The governor has also tightened some restrictions, such as limiting in-person gatherings to ten people. This is due to a spike in COVID cases. Since mid-June, cases have gone up to around 1000 per day, which is an increase from the 100-200 back in June.
In addition, the MHSAA has limited athletic activity to outdoor workouts. When it was announced that such activity could begin, the goal obviously was to be able to move indoors in the gym and/or weight room by July.
Obviously, the aforementioned has not happened. To add insult to injury, football is still not allowed to have full contact practice on the expected date of August 12, coupled with all scrimmages being canceled.
I’m not going to be that person who shames people for contributing to the spike in cases, but it’s clear to me that those who have not used common sense have a hand in determining the current state of affairs.
- The MHSAA is hesitant to act.
When the announcement came out on July 17 that fall sports would go on as scheduled, there was a caveat that a lot would depend on further evaluation, as well as decisions from the governor, prior to their next announcement. Wednesday’s announcement didn’t offer much, if any, indication that the MHSAA is looking to make a decision on the season, let alone even have one.
“They’re prolonging the inevitable” one coach said to me via text message. “Nothing is changing between now [and] in a few weeks…you might as well just pull the plug and get it over with…they’re hoping the governor will do it for them…”
To me, Wednesday’s statement is just the PC way of saying, “We’re gonna continue to kick the can down the road and hope things are better by August 20.”
Hope is not a strategy. This is like taking a nap on the train tracks and hoping a train doesn’t come by and run you over.
Meanwhile, other states such as Illinois have decided that they are moving some fall sports to February-May. This has been done without politicians making the final decision. Why can’t Mark Uyl do the same thing? I get that doing so could be a logistical headache, but it’s at least a clear cut plan of action, which leads to my final point.
- These are amateur athletes.
We’ve been seeing it for the last few weeks in the college ranks. Power Five conferences are making football season conference only schedules to limit travel. Lower-level conferences are postponing their football seasons, along with other fall athletics. One of those is the MIAA, who has a bulk of their universities in Michigan.
If colleges are postponing in the interest of safety, high school should do the same. These are all amateur athletes who don’t make a dime. The players in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB are all paid, plus represented by a union.
While high school age kids may not be as prone to the effects of COVID, they could have someone in their family who is more prone. If an athlete catches the virus, he or she could pass it on to someone with compromised immunity. That person could end up gravely ill or dead.
Also, for those who think that athletes who are in great shape will be fine, consider the following. Eduardo Rodriguez, a 27-year old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, contracted COVID. As a result, he has since been diagnosed with myocarditis, which is a heart condition that requires extensive treatment.
Rodriguez had no prior issues with his health, nor did anyone in his family have any heart issues. Now his career could very well be over. Imagine if a high school athlete is in a similar situation, especially one who is expected to play at the next level.
In conclusion, the lack of a plan by the MHSAA coupled with the state of things now makes it clear that we won’t have a football season, at least for this fall. I acknowledge that things could be better in time for a football season in February, but that seems like a best-case scenario at this point. Furthermore, there’s no indication of how things will be come winter sports season, and I for one do not want my first season at Bedford to be lost.
The best advice I can give is to mask up and use common sense. I just wish the MHSAA would do the latter when it comes to having contingency plans.