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Everything you need to know about the start of MHSAA indoor contact sports, beginning Feb. 8

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, February 4, 2021, 5:44 pm

All along, executive director Mark Uyl has said that the Michigan High School Athletic Association would be ready to go with whatever sport, as soon as it got clearance from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

That came Thursday.

And, true to his word, the MHSAA will begin the four indoor contact sports as soon as Monday, putting in place the additional protocols demanded by the newest iteration of the MDHHS’ epidemic order — some of which are still being clarified through the weekend — including masks during competition, or a full testing protocol in lieu of masks. 

Boys and girls basketball and hockey will be able to start both contact practices and competitions on Monday, Feb. 8, while competitive cheer and wrestling can start on Friday, Feb. 12. 

“Very excited today for the opportunity that a winter kids are going to have as early next week Monday. We absolutely want to recognize the work and support here from Governor (Gretchen) Whitmer, and her staff and everyone in her office, along with MDHHS director (Elizabeth) Hertel, her staff, everyone from her office,” Uyl said in a Zoom conference call with media Thursday afternoon, after the impact of the new order was digested, and the representative council was able to meet. 

“We are just we are greatly appreciative of them, taking the information, receiving the data that, you know, we’ve communicated over the last week to 10 days and are incredibly pleased and grateful with the new order that goes into effect on Monday, so our winter kids can all move forward.”

With the start point now set, and using the same end points that had been set a week or so ago, the winter season will be a six-week sprint. 

“So the end point had been set now for a number of days, we finally now have our start date that can get rolling for all four of these sports early next week. And again, we’re incredibly excited, and we’re ready to go. As excited as we were to get fall restarted, to be able to finish, we’re probably more excited, because really these these four winter teams — and it’s really been hard on on kids and coaches and families and communities and incredibly grateful for next week,” Uyl said. “Don’t forget our winter kids in those four contact sports, it really kind of been in limbo and on pause for the last two and a half months. And we have said consistently that when we were ready to play we would play. And so we’re excited about those sports beginning early next week.”

Masks will be required during competition for basketball and hockey, but not for wrestling or competitive cheer, for different reasons. 

“What is in the order is it is clear that in the sports such as basketball and ice hockey, that face masks have to be worn at all times. That’s practices, that’s games, with the new order that wearing a mask, during both practice and competition is a is a clear requirement. Wrestling is being treated differently under the orders. From what we’ve been told is that in the guidance documents that MDHHS is going to be putting out that wrestling will be required to do rapid testing on the day of meets,” Uyl said. 

“So if a wrestling school, for example, has a meet on a Thursday during the season, all of those individuals participating in that afternoon or that evening would need to have a negative rapid test on the day of the meet. So whether that’s done first thing in the morning, whether that’s done just after school during the lunch period, wherever that may be, there is a requirement in wrestling that a rapid test has to be done. … Really when you take a step back, I think all of us have thought that you know wrestling, in terms of the winter sports, had some very unique challenges when it came to COVID and keeping everybody as safe as possible. So again, MDHHS similar to what they did in the pilot testing program, they will be providing those tests in the schools at no charge to the schools. And instead of the pilot program which required three tests a week this will all be predicated on the number of days of competition a wrestling team has in a week. So this season, our high school teams can compete either once or twice a week, so when you have one meet during a week, you’ll be testing once, and when you’ve got two meets in a week, you will be testing twice.”

Competitive cheer is a different animal. Masks will be required in practice, but not in competition on the mat, or when stunting and tumbling. 

“We also got some further clarification on on masks for competitive cheer, which is a little bit unique because of course with cheer, it’s more of a performance sport, and unlike the other three contact sports, in cheer, you’re never in close proximity with an opponent,” Uyl said. “When you’re out there on the competition surface, you’re there with your teammates and teammates only, and so we’ve got some additional guidance for our cheer young women for both practice in game situations.”

Below are the new starting points for each sport, provided by the MHSAA. At the bottom of the file is a transcription of the Q&A from Uyl’s media session Friday, for the sake of full clarity. 

——————————

Girls Basketball

Masking/testing: All participants must wear face coverings at all times — during all practices and non-game activities, and during games. A testing requirement may allow participants to remove masks while in active participation on the floor if they test negative that game day; more details will be provided to schools when confirmed.

Competition limit: Teams may play up to three games per week, Monday through Sunday.

First contest: Feb. 8

Districts: March 22, 24, 26

Regionals: March 29, 31

Quarterfinals: April 5

Semifinals: April 7

Finals: April 9

———

Boys Basketball

Masking/testing: All participants must wear face coverings at all times – during all practices and non-game activities, and during games. A testing requirement may allow participants to remove masks while in active participation on the floor if they test negative that game day; more details will be provided to schools when confirmed.

Competition limit: Teams may play up to three games per week, Monday through Sunday.

First contest: Feb. 8

Districts: March 23, 25, 27

Regionals: March 30, April 1

Quarterfinals: April 6

Semifinals: April 8

Finals: April 10

———

Competitive Cheer

Masking/testing: Teams may compete without testing or face coverings, but must wear masks at all times outside of active competition or stunting/tumbling practice.

Competition limit: Teams may participate in 12 days of competition, not counting MHSAA Tournament events.

First contest: Feb. 12

Districts: March 15-20

Regionals: March 22-24

Finals: March 26-27

———

Ice Hockey

Masking/testing: All participants must wear face coverings at all times – during all practices and non-game activities, and during games. A testing requirement may allow participants to remove masks while in active participation on the ice if they test negative that game day; more details will be provided to schools when confirmed.

Competition limit: Teams may play up to three games per week, Monday through Sunday. Teams also may play two games on one non-school day twice; during those two weeks, teams are allowed up to four games Monday through Sunday.

First contest: Feb. 8

Regionals: March 15-20

Quarterfinals: March 23

Semifinals: March 25-26

Finals: March 27

———

Wrestling

Masking/testing: Testing is required for wrestling, but competitors will not be required to wear face coverings.

Competition limit: Teams may compete two days per week, Monday through Sunday, with no more than four teams at a site (with each individual competing in up to three matches per day.)

First contest: Feb. 12

Districts: March 15-20

Regionals: March 22-28

Team Finals: March 30

Individual Finals: April 2-3

——————————

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FROM THURSDAY’S MEDIA ZOOM

Q: Will masks be required for any of the non-contact sports?

UYL: So no changes to the for other winter sports that are fully going — ski obviously being outdoors, boys swimming and diving in the Lower Peninsula, UP swimming and diving, bowling and gymnastics — there’s no change whatsoever to those four non-contact sports. You are masked at all times except when you are involved in direct participation. So again, no change whatsoever. Today’s order only dealt with the changes to the contact sports. When it comes to cheer, cheer will have to have a face mask on during all times during practice and competition, except when they are an active participation on the mat.

The reason again for this is there is no opponent that is ever within any kind of physical distance, much less actual physical contact. Competitive cheer, you are cheering within your own teammates, as I said earlier, so again, they’re going to be masked at all times during practices. So during practice, the times that the mask can come off is when the young women are stunting and tumbling. Those are the most high-risk activities to where when someone is trying to land from a tumbling routine or from a stunt, either landing or being caught. If the mask could move, that could create a real safety issue. So we’ve been able to find a carve-out for competitive cheer, when they’re going to be able to compete, you’re going to be able to move forward in the masking requirements. Again, without an opponent without any physical contact with others is really going to be done in a safe way. So that’s the the quick summary on our other winter sports that are already going plus the four sports covered today in the new order.

Q: How is it determined which sports need masks?

UYL: So MDHHS … I think if you go to their FAQ page that’s posted right now, they have a list of what they consider to be contact sports, and the three that are listed that we sponsor are basketball and ice hockey, and it’s wrestling. in conversations, it is clear that some of the challenges and concerns with wrestling are different than what they are in both basketball and ice hockey. So that’s why the requirement is going to be in place here.

For wrestling, that testing is going to be required. And by the way, with testing being required for wrestling, it’s what will allow those kids during their matches to compete without a mask on. Wrestling, where you already have certain airway and choking issues based on certain holds and certain positions, trying to compete in wrestling with a mask on would just make the potential risks even greater, so wrestling will test, and they will be able to compete without masks. Right now in basketball and ice hockey, they’re able to compete as early as next week, as long as masks are worn and no testing required.

Q: Where are we at in terms of masking for officials? Is that something that might be required? 

UYL: So right now, the the masking requirements that we really focused on and really dealt with the participants with players. One thing that  — we’re working through the order because we saw the order today, for the first time at 1:30 (p.m.), on the actual order itself, we’re right now figuring out exactly where officials will fall in that order. Certainly, we’re going to need to decide, obviously, a competitive cheer judge and a gymnastics judge is in a different position as an official than what a basketball official or a wrestling official does, or an ice hockey official, who is obviously much more active during the game. So we should have that updated guidance and information for officials here, hopefully, by the end of the day tomorrow. 

Q: For wrestling contesting happen the day before a meet or instead of the day of? Will rapid testing required for teams traveling long distances, across state lines, things like that? 

UYL: We have not gotten any information from (MD)HHS, that given a distance or out of state (travel) that additional or extra testing would be required. So that has not been mentioned, that is not been discussed in any way, shape, or form about that kind of testing. …

So the guidance again, we’re waiting on that document that MDHHS has stated will be published in public on Sunday (Feb. 7). That is one question we did have, obviously, with wrestling. We are using exclusively home weigh-ins this year — we’ve used that in past years as an option. All wrestlers weigh in the day before the meet. It would make a great deal of sense if the home weigh-in is the day before, that testing would also happen the day before. But again, we’re gonna look to that, that updated guidance on Sunday from Health and Human Services, to see if they’re going to stick to their (rule that it) has to be day of competition, or if they would extend that to also include the day before. 

Q: In wrestling, if there is a single positive test, will it require the entire team to withdraw or be disqualified or just the athlete who tested positive?

UYL: So that answer would be the same as it’s been with all of our fall sports. If you have a positive case or a positive test, you then go back and you work through the close contact and contact tracing process. In some cases that might quarantine or eliminate an entire team. In other cases, it may be only a handful of individuals. So each one of those whenever there’s a positive test, you work your way backwards over the previous 48 hours. That will be handled no differently than it has so far. 

Q: Will wrestlers need to be masked during practices?

UYL: So the way that we understand the what the order requires is that masks will be required during practice situations and settings. That with the test, the mask comes off during your active participation in the match. 

Q: Can games start Monday for basketball and hockey? 

UYL: Correct. We have a lot of schools that won’t be playing on Monday or Tuesday — that’s going to be their local decision with local control. But given the fact that each day that’s gone by, especially as we’ve gotten into February, that’s when each day that goes by that runway for winter sports gets shorter and shorter, and what we’ve heard from all of our winter coaches is that our kids have never been in better condition, with all the conditioning that has gone on in the last three weeks. We’ve had a few wrestlers even joke that it’s felt like cross country practice the last three weeks, as much as they’ve been running. So I don’t think our kids have ever been in better shape, which will allow us to make a very quick transition to contact competition and contact practices right away next week.

Q: Currently basketball teams can play three games in a week, Monday through Sunday. Has there been any talk of allowing basketball teams to play two games in one day, to make up for lost games?

UYL: So right now, with starting next week, basketball has six weeks to have regular-season play before the district even starts. So if the team can maximize their number of games in a week, that’s 18 games. Remember that we’re also giving our basketball teams over the remaining three weeks of the tournament, once they’re eliminated or beaten in the district or regional level, they’re able to play those last two regular-season games, all the way up until the day of the final. So we are staying with the three-game-per-week limitation in basketball. And as I said, as we sit here today, with a start of competition next week, before district week gets here, a basketball team could play 18 of their 20 allowable regular-season games. And don’t forget, you know, our football kids during the fall, they were only able to get in six regular-season games. So, truth be told, we’re actually quite pleased with what we’re able to give our basketball kids. 

Q: How much do we know about protocols for spectators, both in terms of how many will be allowed, what they’ll be allowed to do? 

UYL: We’re waiting on clarification. If you read the order, you see three different numbers of 100, 250 and 500. all for, you know, arenas, recreational facilities. So there’s three different levels, depending on capacity. The thing that gives us pause that we have to get clarified, is that if you saw the press conference today, Director Hertel, said that spectators would be limited to two per participant, which that’s just different language than what’s in the order. So we just need to make sure exactly what the order will allow before next Monday, as it comes to spectators. 

Q: Any update on venues, especially for later rounds for winter sports?

UYL: So we have had conversations with the Breslin Center. We believe that both are boys and girls finals will be able to be held in Breslin. Ice hockey, we’re having those conversations with USA Hockey Arena to see where those dates can work out. The same has gone on with competitive cheer, where those finals will be held. And then obviously, we’ve got to do a lot of the legwork yet with wrestling to see if we’re going to have to split each of our finals at different locations, if we would do two divisions on one day, the other two divisions on the other day. So that’s our plan, at least right now. But especially when it comes to our wrestling sites, stay tuned. 

Q: With the potential of spectators being limited to two per participant, does that include coaches, other participants that did in football? Media?

UYL: Correct. Same as the fall. Two spectators per participant would include players, we’ve also included coaches in that now obviously, with limited spectators, it’s never been more important for media to be able to be there to cover events. And so there’ll be no change to the media policies. 

Q: Will athletes technically violated the ‘limited team membership’ rule up until Feb. 8, be given a free pass? Or will they face potential suspensions?

UYL: So we’ll deal with those in a case-by-case basis, just as we do with with any other kind of violation. 

Q: Have we had any schools opt out of competition so far?

UYL: None that I am aware of.

Q: How much did the change in directorship at MDHHS allow this path to change, or anything else? 

UYL: You know, I’m not sure. You know, you could ask that same question about, you know, the rally last weekend. My whole focus — and I try and live my life by by the windshield in rearview mirror proportions. I think it’s really important that you try and always look forward about the size of your front windshield, and you look backwards about the size of what your rearview mirror is. So I think what’s really important is we’re going to get a chance to get these four sports all started next week, and that is what we are looking forward to. And we’re just we’re grateful of everybody that allowed their voice to be heard. We’re grateful of the consideration of the data and the numbers that we provided. And, again, very grateful to Gov. Whitmer, Director Hertel and all of their staff members with today’s announcement. 

Q: How has the pandemic impacted the MHSAA financially?

UYL: So we’re hanging in there. You know, certainly much of our revenue in a normal year is around ticket revenue at our tournament events, and whenever you’re limiting spectators, that creates some real challenges. So we’ve had to be very creative, even with limited crowds during the fall. We actually did very well, as well as we could have hoped that our schools really came through for us. We reimbursed all of our full tournament sites for all of their official fees, and any any remaining revenue did come from us. So that is why we’ve been able to continue advocating for all of our seasons. We’ll figure out a way to get winter tournaments in place and done, and we’ll do the same with spring. So we appreciate that those that, you know, may be concerned. Again, as a private, not-for-profit organization, all of our money is, you know, generated through sponsorships, ticket sales, those kinds of things. We receive no tax dollars. And so we’ll just continue to be very creative in these strange times. 

Q: Obviously, we did a lot more with live streaming because of the spectator limits during the fall. Will those rules be similar for the winter?

UYL: That that is the plan? Yes.

Q: Does the MHSAA anticipate that spring sports will be pushed back at all because of the delay and does the return of winter sports make the MHSAA confident in an uninterrupted spring season?

UYL: I’ve always had high confidence in spring, based on our experience this fall, and fall sports the way they were able to go forward with most of them being outdoors, that even put that into the spring to where our crowds groups and gatherings are the smallest they’ve been. So a very high confidence that we’ll be able to do spring, hopefully without any further delay or interruption. We are going to get feedback from our schools early next week. Now that we know our winter start date and end dates, there’s more overlap than ever has been there. So we do want to see from our schools, you know, would there be a delay of just a handful of days to winter to spring sport, first day of practice? I think that’s important feedback to get schools are now going to be managing indoor facilities with more overlap of winter and spring. So we’re going to get some feedback from our schools and see, but spring sport practices will begin in March. It’s just a matter of will it be the 15th? Or what would be a few more days later? 

Q: Are there any sports that are classified as contact sports in the spring? 

UYL: I would think the only contact sport would be boys lacrosse, currently have all of our spring offerings, and also girls soccer. I believe would currently be the two.

Q: Is the MHSAA flexible with possibly moving things back week or two should state have to take a pause before winter sports are completed?

UYL: Just as we did with fall, just as we did with winter, if there’s a possible delay and stop, we go back to see how we can get three seasons that all get to the finish line. And we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Q: Is there concern over an official shortage? Could potentially officials double up like they did in football?

UYL: So there’s always a need for more officials; that that doesn’t go away during a pandemic and is probably even a little bit more important. Schools I know are going to be creative with their scheduling. It may be a case of schools are going to do a doubleheader basketball game, for example, and maybe maybe using the same crew of officials for both games. It may be a case of in some parts of our state where three-person (crews were) being used for regular season and some games may end up going back to use only two officials. So we’re right now working on how we’re going to make the officiating puzzle fit once it gets to our tournament time. But, you know, we’ve got assigners in schools right now that are working real hard to finalize those schedules and to make all that work. 

Q: [Uyl asked to reiterate dates for wrestling tournament.]

UYL: We don’t know what our wrestling venues will be. Very likely scenario could be that when it gets to the finals that each of our four divisions could be separate sites. Could be a case of two divisions are at one site. That is still yet to be determined.

Q: Are there protocols regarding wrestling mats? For example, will they be required to be claimed between weight classes?

UYL: Might not be between weight classes. I don’t know how many matches. I do know that those of you who have covered our wrestling finals for years, we’ve actually been disinfecting mats, using a product with infrared light. We’re able to do that very, very quickly. We’re able to do that without having to take the mop bucket, and wet mats down and those kinds of things. So we do have some very creative ways that we can help our wrestling schools to keep everybody as safe as we possibly can.

Q: How concerned are you about the possibility of a pause to winter sports? And is there a threshold that we’ve been told of, in terms of case numbers, that we have to keep in order to ensure that they continue to be active? 

UYL: So I think you always have that concern. I think, as we’ve looked at in all levels of sport, over the last 10 months, that that positive cases, and an outbreak is a concern. I think if you asked (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell, does he still have a concern prior to Sunday’s (Super Bowl) game, his answer would probably yes. So that really doesn’t go away. What does give me great confidence — and you’ve heard us talk about this for a number of weeks — is the experience of this winter in our three neighboring states. In Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio, they have all been able to participate in all of their winter sports — contact sports included — and their overall COVID numbers have decreased at about the same general rate as what ours have in Michigan, both in terms of new daily cases, as well as positive test rates. So yes, we’re certainly concerned, we know that we’re going to have positive cases, just as we did in the fall, that we’ll work with schools to manage those to keep everybody safe. But the experience that I hear over and over from my colleagues in the other 38 states that have been playing winter sports now for a number of weeks, specifically our three neighboring states, I believe all we needed was the chance to get started. And hopefully here, the next time we’ll see everybody face to face, we’ll be covering one of our winter final events. 

Q: So basketball and hockey can both begin contact on Monday and competing on Monday?

UYL: Yep. So Monday is the first day that the new order goes into effect. So I think I saw a question, ‘Well, can schools have contact practices tonight or over the weekend?’ And the answer is no. That does not start until Monday. And in basketball and ice hockey, that same date of next Monday is the first date that contact practices may begin. And then there also would be able to start the first allowable day of competition would also be next Monday. We have a lot of girls teams that I think are going to be ready to go early on next week. Remember, they had a full week of practice back in November. They probably finalized their squads and made cuts if they had to. Remember that our boys teams haven’t even had been able to go with contact practices. Maybe not as big of an issue at the varsity level. But (if) you’re a large school to where you have 40 boys that try out for the freshman basketball team, it’s awfully hard to finalize your squad and make cuts when you haven’t yet seen kids have a full-out (intra)squad scrimmage. So our boys teams, you may see girls playing games early in the week next week with probably our boys basketball teams, probably getting started middle or late next week. And of course in the hockey world, so much of it is predicated on ice time, because of course this order just didn’t open up high school sports, it also opened up all levels of youth in the amateur sports. So our high school teams next week are going to be competing with non-school hockey for ice time. And that’s why we wanted to give our hockey schools lots of flexibility, too.


Q: Who will be responsible for policing, the wearing of masks during competition?

UYL: That would be, as we did during the fall, it’s really a partnership between school administrators, coaches and officials. And we know that from the fall experience … we need to stay diligent, there’s a lot of work to do. And we will do everything we possibly can to make sure that everybody is following the Health and Human Services order.

Q: Are the tests the same as football teams and other fall sports? And if a basketball player doesn’t want to wear a mask during competition, for example, can they voluntarily take the test instead?

UYL: So the answer to the first question is yes, the MDHHS will be providing the same antigen testing that they did for use during the pilot program.

One of the unanswered questions is for a team, does it have to be all or nothing? If If one individual on the team wants to get out of wearing a mask and wants to do the rapid test, is that acceptable? Or is it an all or nothing? Can it be individual? If it’s two teams playing, if one team or one individual has tested enough to not wear the mask, does that now require everyone again? We understand that this will be one of the questions that’s addressed in the guidance that will be coming out this weekend. 

Q: Will basketball seasons continue with the previous schedules provided by individual conferences or how games would be rescheduled going forward?

UYL: What we’re hearing what most schools are going to do is they’re going to pick up with their schedules next week. And they’re going to start with that to try not to reschedule as many games as possible. So they’ll pick up next week, and over those six weeks of regular season, they’ll see what’s already been set and confirmed. And then I’m sure they’ll work back to maybe add some third games during the week to try and get in as many regular-season games as possible. 

Q: Will there be junior high games? 

UYL: So Junior High’s and middle schools that wish to start in these four sports — we don’t have any middle school hockey teams that I’m aware of — but basketball, competitive cheer and wrestling, junior high/middle school, if they want to get started, they would need to follow the same guidelines. And that would mean junior high/middle school wrestling, those kids would have to have to be tested the day of the meet.