MHSAA’s Uyl expresses frustration at Monday’s extension of ‘pause,’ lack of explanation for keeping high school sports halted
Quite often, since the pandemic first hit, Mark Uyl’s weekly appearances on ‘The Huge Show’ radio program have been mostly informational.
Yes, the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s executive director has used the air time to give a more fleshed-out perspective on the planning or decision-making process for the association’s administration of the high school sports in the state, adding more detail and insight than can be achieved with just a press release.
But there’s usually been somewhat of a nuts-and-bolts informative aspect to it, as well.
Tuesday’s appearance was less that, and more of a visceral reaction to Monday’s extension of the statewide ‘pause,’ the rolling out of which frustrated Uyl to no end.
A positively Seinfeldian ‘Airing of the Grievances,’ so to speak.
“I think the most frustrating thing is, we still have yet to be given a good answer for why our plan didn’t make sense. I think that’s probably the thing that I’ve had the hardest time, as I’ve thought about this every minute since 2:30 yesterday afternoon, about what we could’ve done differently, or better. Again, if we’re going to follow the science and data — and there’s data that says, ‘Here, this is why you shouldn’t be playing over the next three weeks …’” Uyl said at the end of nearly four straight minutes of riffing to host Bill Simonson on the data that he and the MHSAA staff had provided to the governor’s office and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in a presentation a week into the initial three-week pause. “You know what? You provide that to me, and you can explain it to me, and I’ll become the biggest supporter, because I’m someone that’s a geek, a numbers guy, and have always been very systemic, in terms of things like that. And that’s why … you can probably hear the frustration today. Because everything we tried to do was not based on hope, it was based on our metrics going back to early August. And we just … we weren’t given that opportunity.”
Uyl said the MHSAA was given a “courtesy phone call” just minutes before the news conference held by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, along with two of her chief medical consultants, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun and MDHHS director Robert Gordon, to announce the 12-day extension.
What he said they weren’t given was a detailed explanation.
“We’re continuing to be on hold. The three-week pause has become a five-week pause. To say that we were disappointed in yesterday’s announcement would be an understatement. We had put together an incredibly well thought-out plan, citing all of our evidence and data that we had collected from the first day in fall practice in August. A very reasonable plan to let our three ongoing fall tournaments — football, volleyball and swim — be able to get the closure and to do it safely during the month of December. Had productive conversations with those decision-makers leading up to yesterday. Of course, we get a courtesy phone call a few minutes before the governor’s press conference, to let us know the extension of the pause is going to go on another 12 days, and our status is unchanged. I’m all about following the science and the data and the metrics. What we were told in that phone conversation is that the epidemiology would not have allowed sports to resume, which would’ve been tomorrow (Wednesday). Of course, when asked for specifics of that epidemiology, or copies, or evidence, we’re still waiting for that,” Uyl said.
“A disappointing day yesterday, but one thing that sports teaches you is that when you get knocked down, you dust yourself off and get right back up. So we’re going to convene a meeting of our board tomorrow, and we’ll see where we go next. I’ll repeat this … going back to June, our goal is three seasons that will all reach the finish line, and that goal has not changed.
“We still have some time here in front of us. We certainly had a good, safe plan put together to let fall finish yet during the month of December, and very disappointed we weren’t given the opportunity or option yesterday.”
With the extension of the pause pushing things right up against the Christmas holiday, and hampering the MHSAA’s plans to try to get those remaining postseason contests in before starting winter sports, Uyl was hesitant to even put any hard numbers or dates to what the Representative Council might talk about in Wednesday’s meeting.
“I’m not even going to put dates. I’m not sure our board is even going to put dates to paper tomorrow, because I’m not going to go through that treadmill exercise of the pause ending on this date, us planning, us sharing that plan, asking for some critical feedback and analysis from decision makers, really not getting any concerns, and then — you know, you wait until the next announcement, and you’ve got a bunch of kids across our state that are very frustrated and disappointed,” Uyl said. “Certainly, the timing of the extension right before the holidays presents an awful lot of challenges, and as we have since last March, we just take things on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.”
Late last week, the executive director had expressed his optimism that the presentation to the governor’s office and MDHHS might sway the decision makers’ opinions toward allowing the resumption of high school sports.
Both Gov. Whitmer and Gordon noted in Monday’s news conference that the priority was to get in-person education for high schoolers going again before prep athletics.
The data, Uyl insists, shows that high school sports have not been the spreader that some anticipated they would be.
“Nope, not at all. The data, not just in Michigan, but across the country, that has been the consistent finding, that even a contact sport like football or soccer, where everybody thought — you know, speculatively — that these would be the super-spreader events, and it just simply did not happen,” Uyl said.
“Some would then say, ‘Well, Mark, what about all the outbreaks we’re seeing at the college level?’ I would bet you dollars to donuts that their outbreak issues aren’t with kids being together on the practice field or games. With college kids, it’s them in the dorm, in the cafeteria, it’s in the meeting room. Some of these D-I football programs, I mean, their kids never leave the football facility, where you’ve got 100-plus people, indoors a good chunk of the day. Again, our kids go to practice and then they go home. Our kids go play a game, and they go home. Especially now, with education being done virtually. Again, we had a safe plan put together, that was based on the data. I think was was also a little disappointing during the remarks of our three government leaders, they didn’t even bring up sports in the remarks. It was only because of a reporter’s question at the very end of the press conference where the issue even came up. We’ve been very willing partners, we’ve tried to engage and communicate at every single step. We’re here to help, and again, just some frustration that we’re going to put behind us here as quickly as we can, and refocus and meet with our board tomorrow, and see what the path forward looks like.”
And as for the data that the MHSAA included in its presentation to the governor’s office and MDHHS? Here is the full transcription of his four-minute response [The full audio CAN BE FOUND HERE]:
“The nine weeks that we were able to play football this year, we had ranges of teams that were able to play each week, ranging from a low of 95 percent, to a high of 98.5 percent. For the six weeks of the regular season, and the three weeks of the tournament, that we were able to play, we had each week, anywhere from 95 to 98.5 percent of our football teams that were able to play and play safely. I have very similar data in volleyball, to where the numbers ranged anywhere from a low of 94 percent to again, a little bit north of 98 percent. And then all of our other fall sports, we were never below 97 percent, at any time during the fall season. If it’s about following the science and the data — certainly if you look at how our state government has handled things, is they’ve looked and they said ‘OK, we can’t open up everything in society, all business, all gatherings, those kinds of things, so let’s strategically try to pick and choose the ones that we believe we can re-engage and re-open the most safe.’ We’ve all tried to do that going back to — what, last May? — when things started to slowly open back up.
When it comes to school and school sports, in normal times, I would agree that the optics of not having in-person education, but still playing athletics is not ideal. In normal times, that is not ideal. However, these are anything but normal times. And if we believe that, over the next two to three weeks, until the holidays, that it’s still not safe to bring every high school student back to campus, and to have all in-person education, that there’s still some heartburn or some issues there — I can understand that. But why can’t we open up the parts of programs connected to the school that can be re-opened and re-engaged safely?
And that was really our ask when it came to athletics. You know what? You’d be bringing kids back to school, back to campus in the next three weeks, in the same defined groups of kids, with the same adults, day after day. We would continue to play with a mask on — which has not been required of high school athletes in any other state in the country, as it has been in Michigan. So we were going to continue to play with masks, and then we were going to add the step of no spectators. So these would be kids — and all the data and the metrics showing the infection rates of teenagers — we would have had our kids together over the next three weeks, providing an incredible mental health opportunity for them to be able to finish their seasons, to get closure, following the science and the data. I think the most frustrating thing is, we still have yet to be given a good answer for why our plan didn’t make sense. I think that’s probably the thing that I’ve had the hardest time, as I’ve thought about this every minute since 2:30 yesterday afternoon, about what we could’ve done differently, or better. Again, if we’re going to follow the science and data — and there’s data that says, ‘Here, this is why you shouldn’t be playing over the next three weeks …’ You know what? You provide that to me, and you can explain it to me, and I’ll become the biggest supporter, because I’m someone that’s a geek, a numbers guy, and have always been very systemic, in terms of things like that. And that’s why … you can probably hear the frustration today. Because everything we tried to do was not based on hope, it was based on our metrics going back to early August. And we just … we weren’t given that opportunity.”