MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl elaborated Monday on the organization’s decision, announced Sunday night, to pause all high school sports action for the next three weeks. The decision coincided with new restrictions put in place by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), which went into effect this Wednesday.
First and foremost, Uyl, speaking in a Zoom press conference, used the same language he used in March when the MHSAA had to pause activity: Fall tournaments and winter sports are suspended, not canceled.
Last time, Uyl ended up, through no fault of his own, being wrong about that. This time he’s more hopeful things will work out.
“I think this is much different than where we were at in March and April,” Uyl said. “(The pandemic) was a new phenomenon to all of us. We had plans the entire time to complete winter and spring seasons until we ran out of runway and the governor made the only call she could at the time, which was to end in-person instruction for the school year.”
One main reason for Uyl’s optimism now is that the MHSAA now has over two months of data that seems to square with the data from collegiate and professional sports leagues that on-field transmission of the coronavirus, if it’s happening at all, is not statistically significant. Uyl pointed out that nearly 95 percent of football and volleyball teams statewide were able to play out their seasons to date without disruption. Even this past week, as COVID-19 case loads were exploding statewide, only five of the 144 remaining high school football teams had to back out of the playoffs for virus reasons.
“They found very little evidence that the virus was being spread during practice,” Uyl said. “There also wasn’t any data that shows that the virus was being spread through competition. That’s not my opinion. That’s not speculation. That’s what we’d been hearing the entire fall from health department officials across the state.”
Despite that, though, the new MDHHS guidelines prohibit high school sports from taking place until at least Dec. 8. (Collegiate and pro sports in the state are permitted to continue due to their stringent testing protocols.)
Wednesday, the MHSAA board of directors will meet, with a goal of creating updated schedules. For the moment, Uyl said, the MHSAA is taking the MDHHS at its word regarding the length of the pause and will plan as if activity will resume Dec. 9.
If that’s the case, Uyl said, the plan will be to complete fall tournaments prior to the end of the calendar year. Ford Field remains the planned site for the football finals, as announced last Friday, even though the dates will change from the planned Dec. 4-5, and even if the dates end up having to be outside of the traditional Friday and Saturday. If the current three-week pause extends further, then it’s likely the football tournament, at least, would be completed in the spring.
“If the order is extended, then, as we have been going back to last March, we look at what that extension date would be, and then we go to Plan B and Plan C. We will tweak and change our plan (as needed).”
The theme of the day was that the MHSAA plans to be flexible. Uyl said the organization is prepared to play with fewer spectators than have been permitted at recent events, or even no spectators at all, if that’s what it takes for student-athletes to be allowed to play.
“The bottom line here is we want to give this experience to kids,” Uyl said. “What will drive our decisions is getting kids to the finish line.
“We have a challenge this next three weeks to get our numbers back to what they were in August, September, early October,” Uyl said. “If we want to give our kids a chance, this is what we’ve got to do. Mentally, I think all these kids need this now more than ever.”