Reversed field: MHSAA will indeed play football this fall, with shortened regular season
Against the strong recommendation of the MDHHS to not play contact sports, the Michigan High School Athletic Association has reversed field and will put on the pads this fall.
After Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement Thursday of the reopening of indoor athletic facilities for organized sports — which included a recommendation against, but not a prohibition of contact sports — the MHSAA announced that its Representative Council had voted to reinstate football in the fall.
Just 20 days after voting to push football back from the fall to the spring over concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the MHSAA — beleaguered by critics on all sides — football is back on.
Practices may resume Tuesday in preparation for a six-week regular season beginning on Sept. 18 — and picking up with Week 4 of teams’ established schedules — with every team in the state making the playoffs, which will culminate in the finals on Nov. 27-28 (8-player) and Dec. 4-5 (11-player).
“Thirty three other states are currently participating in all fall sports, and the MHSAA and its member schools are committed to doing this as safely as possible,” MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl said in a news release. “We are ready to again provide those experiences to students and communities that have hoped for a return of some normalcy. Given the challenges of online education in many school districts across the state, providing sports and a daily routine may be more important than ever in motivating students and providing a safe outlet for physical activity, competition and socialization.”
Gov. Whitmer’s announcement Thursday came with two executive orders — No. 175 and 176 — which allowed for the reopening of indoor athletic facilities, including gymnasiums, bowling alleys and pools, for the purpose of organized sports.
That cleared the field for the remaining sports that had been in limbo, but the question of football remained, since the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services strongly recommended against the resumption of contact sports — but it was not prohibited.
“Individuals can now choose whether or not to play organized sports, and if they do choose to play, this order requires strict safety measures to reduce risk,” MDHHS chief medical executive Joneigh Khaldun said in the governor’s news release.
“However, we know of 30 reported outbreaks involving athletic teams and facilities in August. Based on current data, contact sports create a high risk of COVID-19 transmission, and MDHHS strongly recommends against participating in them at this time. We are not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 is still a very real threat to our families.”
Given the level of pushback from around the state at the original decision to postpone football, it was not surprising that the MHSAA quickly reversed field.
“We are thankful for the opportunity for kids to get back on the field in all fall sports, and we appreciate Governor Whitmer providing that opportunity with Executive Order 176 ,” Uyl said. “We share the Governor’s priorities of putting health and safety first, and the COVID-19 guidance and protocols designed by the MHSAA at her request have led to the safe starts in all sports across the state.”
Spectators are limited to two per participant for both indoor and outdoor competitions in those regions still in Phase 4 (1-5 and 7), while the limits remain at 250 for indoor competitions and 500 for outdoor competitions in Regions 6 and 8.
According to the MHSAA, the new EO also stipulates that “a facial covering is worn except when swimming,” but the association is seeking further guidance on the extent of that stipulation. The MHSAA’s announcement Thursday noted that schools which had opted out of fall sports can group up and play fall sports later in the school year, but the association will only be offering championships in the fall.