and Rhode Island conclude the highly unusual 2020-21 high school football season with championships this weekend. Once those states are a wrap, attention will shift to the fall with plenty of questions and speculation about what exactly that will look like across the country.
Without another major surge in COVID-19 numbers, prep football in the fall should look all but identical to pre-2020 according to most state associations and federations. How many fans will be in attendance is still very much up in the air.
"Assuming everything continues as is, we plan a full and regular school year of education-based athletics in 2021-22, including football," California Interscholastic Federation Executive Director Ron Nocetti said. "We'll know more about fan allowance as we get closer to our start dates."
A good number of states already — 35 of the 50 — powered through with football last fall (Vermont played touch and not tackle) and all but four of those states held state championships. Alaska, Minnesota, West Virginia and Wisconsin stopped short of championship games due to the pandemic.
To get to the fall finish line took much resolve. That may have been exemplified best by Michigan, which first moved football to the spring, then back to the fall only to delay the season 42 days starting in November due to surging COVID-19 numbers. The state eventually crowned 10 champions by Jan. 23.
The states that completed fall seasons are ready and eager to go, just tweaking pandemic protocols which will likely be loosened significantly from 2020.
"Hopefully we're getting closer and closer to normal as possible," De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
coach Justin Alumbaugh said. "We'd be naive to think it's going back completely to old times. We still need to address locker room issues. And testing needs to be more streamlined and easier. There surely is a lot more administrative work on coaches than there used to be."
California is one of the 11 states that played its 2020 season in the spring of 2021. Of those states, only three played for state titles. All spring teams have trickier off-seasons than normal with summer conditioning only a few weeks away.
Of the four states that didn't play a down of tackle football in 2020-21, Hawaii is the only one to hold spring scrimmages, including one last week between perennial state powers St. Louis (Honolulu)
and Punahou (Honolulu)
. It took three days for St. Louis to complete 150 COVID-19 tests, all which came back negative, according to its coach.
"We got to see all the young guys play and seniors got to play and wrap up their year," St. Louis coach Ron Lee told Paul Honda of Hawaii Prep World
. "Kids are so happy we had this. I feel sorry for other schools that didn't have what we did, being out there with their friends. They were having fun. They've learned how to handle disappointment."
St. Louis will meet Kamehameha Kapalama (Honolulu)
this week in another scrimmage, which indicates a green light for an Aug. 6 start date for the fall season. That would put Hawaii in the leadoff spot, like normal, for the 2021 fall season.
Utah took those reins last season, kicking off the 2020 season on Aug. 13. The season went largely unscathed, finishing off with five state championship games in late November. With its entire schedule planned for 2021, including another Aug. 13 opening, Utah once again has its foot firmly on the floor board.
Like many states, Utah is seeing significant realignment, including the re-addition of 1A football, giving it six classifications. It's also seeing a larger-than-normal turnover at the top with 16 new head coaches in the state, according to the
Utah Desert News
That national trend is likely residue of burnout from navigating through the pandemic, coaches say.
"It seems like (2020) never really started or really ended," said Alumbaugh, whose six-game season ended April 17.
Said Nocetti: "So much more is being put on the plate of these coaches. I would hope that communities would be even more supportive and appreciative of high school coaches during this time. They need it. That's the only way they will continue to stay longer."
The passion for football is never going away in Texas.
Spring football is back in the Lone Star State after being canceled in 2020. The University Interscholastic League allows 18 spring training practices over 34 days, giving teams the opportunity for scrimmages or even a spring game. Programs still must follow the UIL's own risk mitigation guidelines, but things may be loosening in areas concerning specific mask mandates and dressing room policies.
Some of the larger schools, which had regular seasons moved back a month, moved back their spring workouts. Others, like defending Class 5A-I champion Ryan (Denton)
, opted out of spring ball completely. All of that points to the fall season starting right on time and looking back to normal.
On Wednesday, the UIL also sent a release
that summer marching band and strength and conditioning activities may begin immediately following the end of the 2020-21 school year.
Other state updates:
* Georgia started with a few hiccups to start 2020, but primarily proceeded as normal. The 2021 season is aligned as previous years: Teams are allowed one spring and one fall scrimmage (or two in the fall), acclimation period begins July 26 and first day of practice in pads is Aug. 2, first games are Aug. 20 and playoffs begin Nov. 12.
* In Florida, beyond massive new districts, regions and reclassifications for 2021, the state's football season should look much like 2019 and prior. The playoff system returns to district play for teams in Class 5A through 8A.
* In Tennessee, the TSSAA board voted to allow summer team camps and the return of 7-on-7 football, as long as COVID-19 protocols are in place. Those activities had been suspended since the pandemic began. The state's high school sports governing body also changed its state championship venue for two seasons to Chattanooga's Finley Stadium, which seats 22,000, Concerns over locker room space and use — with so many games — were addressed and dismissed.
* In Ohio, a positive was gleaned from adjustments to the pandemic — increasing its playoff format. Last fall, the OHSAA allowed every team to enter the playoffs due to the shortened season. It was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback, according to OHSAA executive director Doug Ute. Thus it expanded its playoff qualifiers in 2021, from pre-2020 season, to 16 schools per region.