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Gov. Whitmer to MHSAA: Consider moving contact sports back from the fall

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, June 30, 2020, 4:47 pm

With Michigan showing up as green in so many of the maps analyzing the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic as recently as a week ago, it looked like we might have a green light for sports as normal (or close to it) in the fall.

Now, with cases going back up, it may be trending toward yellow. 

On Tuesday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer unveiled an extensive, 63-page report, the MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap, outlining the safety plan that must be put in place before Michigan’s K-12 schools reopen in the fall for in-person instruction, and as a part of the question-and-answer session that followed, indicated she might be putting somewhat of a damper on plans for scholastic athletics for the fall. 

When asked about school sports, Whitmer indicated she’d asked the Michigan High School Athletic Association to further look into the much-discussed possibility of moving the sports that require physical contact back in the school calendar, and moving up individual sports to the fall to replace them.

She said she expects a decision from the MHSAA within the next three weeks or so.

“The Michigan High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations are continuing to develop guidance for how sports can be played safely, and so we’re calling on schools to follow that guidance. I’m also calling on the Michigan High School Athletic Association to consider postponing fall sports that have the impossibility of social distancing as a part of them, to consider moving those to the spring, and running some of the more individualized sports like track and field, or tennis, or golf to the fall,” the governor said. “I anticipate a decision coming from them somewhere around July 20-25 is what they’ve indicated.”

The MHSAA’s normal fall schedule includes several sports — football, boys soccer and volleyball primarily — that would be hard to conduct with social distancing. The remainder — boys and girls cross country, girls swimming and diving (Lower Peninsula), boys tennis (LP), girls golf (LP) and girls tennis (Upper Peninsula) — would probably remain. In theory, baseball and softball could be moved to the fall to replace the postponed fall sports.

“I think that this is an idea that they really consider,” Whitmer said. “I think that it’s important that we give our kids some semblance of normalcy, to recognize how important a lot of athletics are to kids’ futures as well, and we want to make sure that we proceed safely.”

Currently, the spring season also includes boys and girls track and field, girls golf (UP), boys golf, boys and girls lacrosse, girls soccer, boys tennis (UP) and girls tennis (LP).

Some of those could be moved to the fall, as well, but it may be hard to run similar sports — i.e. cross country and track — concurrently, while having both genders play tennis and golf simultaneously could overload the available facilities. 

Nonetheless, it is something that the MHSAA had already put time into thinking about. 

The association’s director of broadcast properties, John Johnson, talked about that process in his appearance on STATE CHAMPS! LIVE on June 2.

“We’ve had those similar discussions … we’ve talked a little bit in the ways that colleges have talked. Do we dare move fall sports to the spring, and bring spring sports — which are all outside — to the fall? Especially if there’s no spectatorship, or limited spectatorship. You don’t want to talk about money, but sometimes, it’s about money. Schools … they’ve got budgets to make. The association has budgets to make. And where does everybody make their money? Football. Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s the way it is. Right now, we think we’re on a path — suddenly; very suddenly — where hey, maybe fall doesn’t look as bad as we once thought. But there’s a long way to go. I think that’s the thing we have to emphasize to people — while training can get going now, and people can get off the shelves, get after it in certain ways, a lot of things have to happen before decisions are made, before we say in that first week of August ‘Hey, can we have fall practices start?’ Before we get to the last weekend of August, are people going to be able to come to the games? We hope so. That’s what we’re all working for right now. Cross your fingers — maybe we’ll get there,” Johnson said. “That’s been our plan, right from Day One, to start working on fall sports, and be able to turn on a dime, like we have been a few times, because of this virus.”

The whole state may have to pivot on a dime, with cases of COVID-19 suddenly back on the rise recently. 

“I’m not announcing any changes today, but we are constantly looking at the data. I had said, when Michigan was that green beacon in that sea of red across the country (on the analysis maps), that my hope was that we would be into Phase 5 by the Fourth of July — that’s not going to happen. So I just think we need to take that off the table right now,” Whitmer said Tuesday. “The numbers that we’re seeing are increasing across the state. Does it mean that we need to re-analyze, reconsider and maybe take a more conservative approach? Maybe. But I’m not announcing that today. … I would anticipate being able to give you more clarity on what our next steps are in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

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