What needs to happen for each Michigan high school sport to play this fall?
Thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all fall high school sports are not on equal ground as the new school year begins.
Currently, football has been postponed to the spring, although there is a potential window open for it to return to the fall.
Boys soccer, volleyball and girls swimming and diving are still not allowed to compete in most of the state. A majority of the Lower Peninsula is stuck in Phase 4 of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reopening plan, meaning it faces more restrictions in the six-phase reopening plan for the state. At the same time, the Upper Peninsula and select counties in northern lower Michigan like Grand Traverse, Cheboygan and Alpena have been labeled with the less restrictive Phase 5 status, allowing the three sports to compete with limitations.
“We’d love to be able to play all three of those sports, obviously,” said Geoff Kimmerly, the MHSAA’s media and content coordinator. “If we can get the changes to do all of those things, that would be the best case scenario, of course.”
With Whitmer expected to address the restrictions on gyms and athletic facilities on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m., here is a look into the main challenges currently facing each fall sport and what it will take for them to be cleared for competition.
Currently, football across the state is postponed until the spring. As the only fall sport placed in the MHSAA’s “higher risk” category, football faced many challenges moving forward because of the social distancing guidelines outline in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 160.
A specific part of the order states sports may resume operations, provided that only if participants maintain six feet of distance from one another to the extent compatible with the sporting activity.
Kimmerly said football would not be automatically cleared to play even if Whitmer eliminated or modified social distancing guidelines, adding it would probably need some kind special approval because it is a high risk sport.
The MHSAA representative council would also have to reconvene and give clearance for football to resume since the council officially announced its move to spring.
Volleyball’s main obstacle now is that it is not allowed to be indoors. Part of EO 160 states all regions in Phase 4 must close “indoor gymnasiums, fitness centers, recreation centers, sports facilities, exercise facilities, exercise studios, and the like.”
Kimmerly said the MHSAA is hoping for the governor’s office to make an amendment to Executive Order 160, allow the openings of indoor sports facilities in Phase 4 regions.
Even for teams in Phase 5 regions, the indoor gymnasium limitations are 25% of the venue capacity or 250 individuals, whichever is smaller, that again includes all persons.
However, Kimmerly said volleyball might need further clearance based on the current social distancing language in the executive order. Volleyball is currently labeled as a “moderate risk” sport by the MHSAA.
“Volleyball might also fall under that social distancing because when you get to the net, (the players) are still close together,” Kimmerly said.
Although boys soccer does not have to worry about the indoor restrictions facing volleyball or swim, the Phase 4 social distancing measures outlined in EO 160 don’t allow athletic events to continue if six feet of social distancing cannot be enforced.
Currently, girls soccer is played in the spring. Should boys soccer get moved to the spring, the current expectation is the MHSAA will plan an early spring season for the postponed fall sports and a late spring season for the traditional fall sports, rather than running the seasons concurrently.
According to Kimmerly, a significant modification to social distancing restrictions or a statewide shift to Phase 5 will allow soccer to immediately begin competition.
Labeled a moderate risk sport by the MHSAA, soccer is cleared for competition in the Phase 5 regions of Northern Michigan. However, the outdoor limitations in Phase 5 regions are 25 percent of the venue capacity or 500 people, whichever is smaller. That includes all persons – players, coaches, officials, game workers, medical personnel, media and spectators.
Girls Swimming & Diving
Although girls swimming and diving is labeled as a low risk sport by the MHSAA, it still faces the same sports facility closures as volleyball outlined in EO 160 throughout Phase 4 regions. In Region 6 and 8, indoor pools in these two Regions are limited to 25% of the bather capacity for that pool.
Once again, allowing indoor sports facilities to open through an amendment to EO 160 or a shift into Phase 5.
Cleared for competition but limited
The only sports currently allowed to compete on a statewide level are boys and girls cross country, boys tennis and girls golf. Although the sports have been cleared to compete, they are not moving forward as normal.
In all regions, cross country cannot have more than 70 individuals per race, which has led to the cancelation of many large-scale invitationals. Tennis cannot have large-scale events as it is restricted from having more than four teams at a competition. Even golf, perhaps the lowest risk sport of them all, cannot have more than 72 competitors on site.
While sideline cheer is not an official fall sport, the MHSAA realizes it is an extension of the competitive cheer season as well and has outlined changes too. Currently, stunting is considered high risk and is currently not allowed in sideline cheer.
Looking for a deadline
Kimmerly said the MHSAA does not want to wait too long into the season for a decision to be made, but recognizes it is still early in the fall season. However, soccer, volleyball and swim teams in Phase 4 regions have already canceled many scheduled games and are unclear about how many more will follow.
“We don’t want to get too far into September before settling this whole thing,” Kimmerly said. “Whether it is getting to play or not getting to play and having to postpone those seasons too … We haven’t put a deadline on it because we are still early in the season. Our teams down here have missed 10 days of competition, which would have been essentially non-league stuff. I think after Labor Day, we’ll really want to talk more intensely about how far into September we’d want to get. I can’t imagine we’d want to get too far in.”
As far as a decision coming from Whitmer on any modifications to EO 160, Kimmerly said the MHSAA has not heard of a set date from the governor’s office.
“We don’t know for sure,” Kimmerly said. “We’re waiting, like everyone else, for what’s next.”