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MHSAA adjusts to curveball of early lifting of stay-at-home order, amends guidance doc for reopening sports

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, June 2, 2020, 4:18 pm

You have to be able to adjust to the curve ball.

And that’s what the Michigan High School Athletic Association got after releasing their Guidance for Opening School Sports on Friday, then having Gov. Gretchen Whitmer toss them a curve by announcing three days later that the stay-at-home order would be lifted, and the state shifted into phase 4 of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“It did put us into a little bit of a scramble. It caused more questions coming from the membership. It’s something that our staff has worked very quickly to address,” admitted John Johnson, the MHSAA director of broadcast properties, in his appearance on STATE CHAMPS! LIVE on Tuesday.

“We kind of wish Friday and Monday had been switched, quite honestly.” 

After 24 hours to digest the news from the governor’s office, the MHSAA sent out an amended guidance to schools on Tuesday. [You can read the full amended plan by CLICKING HERE.]

“I think the curveball came when we got the (new) 100 cap on activities that could take place outdoors,” Johnson said. 

“Obviously a lot of people are excited, and a lot of people want to try to get back after it. We want that to happen as quickly and as safely as we can, but we’ll be giving our schools guidance all along the way.”

Key points in the amended document:

1) Member schools may begin summer activities at school as long as both the district/school has declared the facility open to students and staff, AND the academic school year has ended. Gov. Whitmer’s orders only allowed the use of outdoor facilities at this point.

“We tell people in the communities, ‘Check with your school. They hold the keys to getting things back and going again,’” Johnson said. 

2) Given the expansion of the maximum number of people allowed by the new executive order in outdoor gatherings — from 10 to 100 — the MHSAA moved all outdoor activities to a modified step 2 of its own plan, allowing outdoor workouts and practices to start, once the facilities are open, provided physical distancing is enforced. 

3) When indoor facilities are opened again by Gov. Whitmer, if the limit of 10 people remains in place, indoor activities would start at step 1 — conditioning only — and progress to the next steps, only when the restrictions on inside groups change. 

4) All out-of-season coaching regulations continue to apply. 

Only outdoor workouts and practices can take place at this point, and for all sports, the key component is physical distancing of at least six feet. If there is shared equipment — i.e. the ball — it must be cleaned as permitted during the practice session. 

“We’re not to competition yet, because we still have physical distancing,” Johnson said. “You’ve seen referees in basketball go like this (holding hands apart) in for 6 feet, closely guarded. We need 6 feet. We can’t have competition right now, because you can’t have 6 feet in 7-on-7, you can’t have 6 feet in baseball, those kinds of things. But we are at the stage where we can have people start doing the conditioning, start doing the drills. Everybody’s been on the shelf for three or four months. People have got to get them back in the groove, and we’re going to point them in the right direction.”

Left unchanged were the advisories for pre-workout temperature screenings, cleaning recommendations and the admonition to follow relevant guidelines for the usage of facemasks. 

———

A few more items touched on by Johnson in his STATE CHAMPS! LIVE appearance:

Q: In order to get creative, and position sports so they fit the allowances, would the MHSAA consider — as a temporary solution — moving football and fall sports to the spring, and spring sports to the fall? 

A: 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. 

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. 

Q: Is there any ‘saving’ the spring sports season?

A: No, the Representative Council made it very clear back at the beginning of May. It tried to provide an allowance for schools, if we were able to have some kind of summer ball, to do something we normally don’t do with summer ball, to let them wear their school uniforms one last time to try to get that feeling for a kid. There’s nothing better for a kid sometimes than putting on that uniform. Give them one more opportunity to do that. But no, in terms of that (the spring sports), no, the school year is over. 

Q: Would the MHSAA waive the no-broadcast rule, so we could watch fall sports by Facebook Live, or some other way?

A: “I’d put one caveat on that: If there is limited or no spectatorship, something would happen. I’d say that for sure. Because you’d have all these misplaced partisans who want to keep up with the action, and we’re going to work with schools, to enable them to get their images of their kids out to their communities. Absolutely. If it’s business as usual, there are some programs in place for schools to be able to do games on their own, already.”