Several media outlets of late have speculated that state high school athletic associations might consider switching the spring and fall sports seasons for the 2020-21 school year, swapping contact sports like football to the spring in exchange for sports like track and field and golf, which are less likely to spread the coronavirus.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer suggested the MHSAA make that move last Tuesday evening at a press conference announcing a statewide return-to-school plan for the fall.
From an athletic standpoint, the return-to-school plan didn’t change much — plans to conduct athletic activity safely had already been announced by the MHSAA in its own reopening plan. Gov. Whitmer did say spectators could be permitted at outdoor sporting events if they practiced precautions like six feet of distancing between fans and the wearing of facial coverings. Under the current Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start plan, schools would be permitted to have up to 100 spectators at an outdoor sporting event.
The report added that “large-scale indoor sporting events are suspended” under Phase 4, which would, for the fall, include volleyball.
Whitmer voiced support for the idea of the unprecedented season swap, which would theoretically buy time for a vaccine or effective treatment to make it safe to play contact sports by the spring of 2021, while allowing spring sports athletes to play their sports, which are less prone to spreading COVID-19, as well.
The governor added that she expected the MHSAA would make a decision on such an idea by the end of the month. The first sports practices are scheduled to begin Aug. 10 for football and Aug. 12 for all other fall sports.
“I anticipate a decision coming from them somewhere around July 20 to 25,” Whitmer said in the press conference. That’s what they’ve indicated.”
MHSAA spokesman John Johnson said in a radio interview last week that the idea of swapping seasons has been on the table since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and MHSAA media coordinator Geoff Kimmerly agreed in an interview with MLive, while reiterating the plan remains to play fall sports in the fall.
“That’s the way we’ve been planning the entire time,” Kimmerly said. “However, we are going to have some contingencies in place as we watch the numbers, as everybody else is.”
MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl told the Detroit Free Press the organization wants to do everything it can to provide all the sports possible to high school athletes, which means considering all ways to make it happen.
“I will tell you my biggest priority for the upcoming school year is that we will have three seasons of athletics,” Uyl said. “If that means we have to be creative at some point, then we will do so.
“I’d love to be able to make a firm decision today of what will be the plan for August, but we can’t. Because of the contact nature of the sport, if football can’t be safely played this fall, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t look at alternative and other options.”