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These showdowns could be in jeopardy.
New Jersey was the last of 50 states on Monday to officially close down the spring high school sports season due to the coronavirus.
"We are disappointed for the thousands of New Jersey student-athletes who will be unable to compete this spring," NJSIAA executive director Larry White said in a statement. "While we remained hopeful to the end, and left open every possibility, competition simply is not feasible given the circumstances."
White referred to the challenges ahead and quoted New Jersey's own Vince Lombardi: "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up."
"We're confident all our kids will get back up and stand tall," White added.
But what will it look like in the fall of 2020? That's now where everyone's attention has turned.
1. Will there be a football season?
Most administrators will say the direction and energy of a varsity football season often shapes the school year. On top of that, Friday Night Lights is part of Americana. Not to mention football is an athletic program's biggest earner.
What that means is that while no one truly knows yet whether football kicks off in 2020, every effort surely will be made.
"Right now we're working very hopefully to create plans that would allow us to get a football season in, even if it looks different than we typically see," UIL (Texas) deputy executive director Jamey Harrison told the Dallas Morning News. "But there is so much unknown right now. It is difficult to predict."
"We're control freaks and we're just not in control of all of the things that face us in the next couple of months," OHSAA (Ohio) executive director Jerry Snodgrass told Cleveland.com. "Like Major League Baseball and everybody else, we're planning for every case scenario that exists. There's nothing to release at this point, but we're working on those plans."
Alabama governor Kay Ivey was asked specifically about high school football being played in the fall.
"We are hopeful, but I can't speak on that issue yet," Ivey said.
Coaches in Ivey's state are gaining hope things will start on time. Games, as of now, are scheduled as early as Aug. 20.
"I am feeling more optimistic now than I was a month ago," Spanish Fort (Spanish Fort, Ala.)
coach Ben Blackmon told AL.com. "It seems like the way the reports are coming back and with people doing what they are supposed to do, there is a reason for optimism."
"I'm going to be honest with you. I couldn't imagine going to school in August and September and not having football," Montgomery Catholic (Montgomery, Ala.)
athletic director Daniel Veres told the Montgomery Advertiser
. "It's so weird, because it's such a part of life in Alabama in the fall."
And everywhere else.
2. How much preparation needs to be in place for a football team to start its season?
Pageantry like this prior to a game in Texas last year could go by the wayside this fall if social distancing guidelines remain in place.
Photo by Sean Roach
The days of showing up in late July or early August for two-a-days and three weeks of preparation for the season seem a distant memory — especially for high-level competition.
An emphasis on year-round weightlifting and conditioning programs, along with spring practice and 7-on-7 play, are staples in almost all football programs. This season, however, will be strikingly different.
The new safety concerns for coaches are above and beyond the normal issues of concussions and heat stroke.
coach Keith Etheredge told AL.com he's hopeful the old three-week preparation model won't be the case. Most high school coaches believe four-to-six weeks of preparation, at a minimum, are needed for player safety.
"From what I've heard, they may try to get small groups maybe in the weight rooms by mid-to-late June and then maybe do some more stuff in July," Etheredge said. "I don't think there will be summer competitions, 7-on-7 or anything like that, but hopefully things will be back normal by mid-to-late July."
"I don't think we can give kids home workouts to do and expect to show up on Aug. 1 and say 'All right, boys, let's go practice and let's go play the 21st,' " Heritage Academy (Columbus, Miss.)
coach Sean Harrison told The Dispatch
. "I don't think that's feasible for the safety of our kids."
athletic director Robert Merkler told NorthJersey.com that shutting down the spring season means fall athletes actually need more preparation time.
"A lot of our kids are two or three-sport athletes, so having that spring season canceled kept them away from organized practices for a while," he said. "A lot of them are staying fit, but home workouts can't replace what a team workout can do."
3. When does a decision need to be made about the football season and will teams be given extra preparation time?
The easiest and most emphatic answer is as soon as possible. But realistically, by the middle of June would be helpful and realistic, most believe.
"We don't have a timetable right now," Harrison told the Dallas Morning News. "We need to wait and get more information. The last thing we want to do is give up any more activities.
"I don't know exactly what that is going to look like, or how many hours that is going to include, but I fully expect there will be some allowances for coaches to work with kids that go well behind what we typically allow."
4. If there is a season, will there be fans in the stands?
If social distancing rules still apply in the fall, it's hard to imagine fans will be allowed. If so, will there be a limit? Will cheerleaders, student body and band members be allowed? Without any or all, the pageantry and magic of the game will suffer.
North Carolina High School Athletic Association commissioner Que Tucker told the Charlotte Observer she's considering the possibilities.
"If I look into that crystal ball and said, 'OK, I want to start practice Aug. 1,' " Tucker said, "I need to know will spectators be allowed to come into games; because if we start fall sports on Aug. 1 and there are still social distancing rules, there are still rules about how many people can congregate in one place, then I think that's problematic for our high schools."
Outgoing Indiana High School Athletic Association commissioner Bobby Cox said beyond the magic of Friday Night Lights being lost, the revenue loss without football — or one with no fans — would be devastating.
He told the Indianapolis Star a lack of a state football tournament would cost the IHSAA close to $1 million.
"If we don't have a football season, things will change dramatically," he said. "I think we'll have to lay people off. Our services will be cut dramatically. There is a significant concern from the membership. There is concern nationwide."
5. Does it make sense to swap football season to the winter or spring?
There is talk among the states about switching seasons, but that appears a long shot.
Though none of the California Interscholastic Federation's 10 sections have officially proposed moving the season, the Los Angeles Unified School District is considering the possibility.
The Los Angeles Times
reported during a Zoom meeting with 50 coaches last week, the topic came up because as Garfield (Los Angeles)
coach Lorenzo Hernandez said, "There are too many loose ends," for the fall season.
"Just switch the spring and fall sports calendars," Damien (La Verne, Calif.)
coach Matt Bechtel told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune
. "Since the majority of winter sports are played inside, this makes sense, and it gives everyone the season we all can embrace."
"We're not considering changing any season because it's way too early at this time," CIF executive director Ron Nocetti told the Times
In Northern California, 26 of 36 football coaches polled by the San Jose Mercury News were open to moving the season back to the winter or spring.
"I would be willing to push football back to 2040 — doesn't matter how long it takes, I will wait," Branham (San Jose)
coach Stephen Johnson told the newspaper.
"We have thrown out many, many different scenarios and they go from changing the start date based upon when we can start. … We've talked about sports moving into different seasons," North Coast Section commissioner Pat Cruickshank told the Mercury News
. "I don't know that football in the spring is something that is a possibility."6. Other than changing seasons, what other adjustments might be made?
To avoid a potential second wave of COVID-19, the Arizona Interscholastic Association is expected to implement new rules for locker room sanitation.
"Crowds, locker rooms, player contact, that's all something we have to maybe look at regulating," Salpointe Catholic (Tucson, Ariz.)
athletic director Phil Gruensfelder told Tuscon.com.
Football equipment, too, will need to be new or reconditioned if used the previous season. 7. Should football teams even consider playing out of state?
As has been the case for at least a decade, out-of-state matchups are some of the most anticipated of the 2020 season, including St. Frances Academy (Baltimore)
at IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
, Duncanville (Texas)
vs. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
and De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
at North Shore (Houston)
All appear in jeopardy.
8. What are other challenges for football coaches?
The biggest concern by far is safety, but other obstacles such as player eligibility, player physicals and fundraising also are being raised.
Nearly 75 percent of the coaches the Mercury News
surveyed were concerned about keeping their athletes eligible through online learning, which is more difficult to track.
Administering required physicals is a challenge every year, coaches say, but now that hurdle is significantly greater, Los Altos (Hacienda Heights, Calif.)
coach Travis Brown told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune
"We have a team doctor that does our physicals every year," he said. "With the status of all medical professionals, we don't know if he'll be available to do that for us this year. When you also factor in that we'll probably do some kind of COVID-19 testing, it's the single biggest challenge for me."
Fundraising to fuel most football programs is done largely during the spring and summer. With the current lockdown, those initiatives, such as 7-on-7 tournaments and community cards, are largely done.
9. Does the girls volleyball season appear in jeopardy?
Like football, the volleyball season is very much in question. Lee Feinswog, editor of VolleyballMag.com, said everything revolves around decisions made on football.
"Football is the tail that wags the dog in all cases," Feinswog said. "If it's OK to play football, it will be OK to play volleyball and all other sports."
The club season, which is the training ground for high school volleyball, is still shut down.
But Feinswog notes that the massive 47th annual AAU Nationals, scheduled June 17-28 in Orlando (Fla.), is still scheduled, as is the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships from June 25-July 4 in Dallas.
No fans will be allowed at the AAU Nationals with each team allowed 15 players, five coaches and 10 chaperones maximum. Those types of restrictions could easily be seen during the high school season.
10. Does the cross country season appear in jeopardy?
Though dual meets might appear "safer" around the virus, PrepCalTrack.com editor Rich Gonzalez, a national expert in the track and field and cross country space, said "I think people might not understand that our sport might be the worst-case scenario in high school sports when it comes to re-opening."
The problem really centers around invitational meets and post-season competition.
"While people talk about football crowds on Friday night, at least you can socially spread those people in the stands," Gonzalez said. "In cross country, you're talking about, on average, close to 1,000 athletes on the course at any given Saturday invitational. The number of runners in the largest race at these meets has shown to be in excess of 400, while the average has been closer to about 90 runners per race."
Besides spectators merging at the finish line, Gonzalez poses one other physiological concern.
"The highly aerobic nature of cross country running; athletes breathing harder for 15-plus minutes — no time outs, stoppage between plays — means airborne droplets possibly spreading beyond the six-foot social distance, as research has shown.
"Without some dramatic reversal in the trend of this virus, I don't see how our sport can safely start in August."
Like football, there is talk about switching seasons to the winter, but that doesn't appear a good option given the time required to build an off-season aerobic training base. Gonzalez has spent much of the last few months studying how the virus has affected the running world in other countries.
"I don't want to sound like an alarmist, however, if the epidemiologists are the ones providing the lead, we have quite a daunting challenge ahead of us in finding a true safe restart."