Despite COVID-19, High School Sports To Return In The Fall - But What Will Change?

Jul 21, 2020

High school football players will be headed back onto the field for practice in less than a month.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association announced last week fall sports would be going ahead as normally scheduled.


That’s after the coronavirus pandemic halted spring sports seasons earlier this year.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with the host of Current Sports on WKAR NewsTalk, Al Martin, to discuss what’s going to be different for student athletes this fall.

Interview Highlights

On Why He Thinks The MHSAA Decided To Go Ahead With Fall Sports

We know there's a pandemic, but we aren't going to shift our schedule until some kind of major outbreak happens or the numbers continue to get out of hand, or unless we're absolutely forced to make a change, which is why there are a few contingency plans when it comes to the MHSAA.

On What The Contingency Plans Look Like

Delaying some or all fall sports practices or competitions [and] higher risk fall sports such as football and soccer postponed until later in the year with lower risk fall sports continuing as scheduled. So, for instance, if you have a high-risk sport, like football, Sophia, that could be postponed mid-season until later in the school year. According to a press release, if all fall sports are suspended, they will be rescheduled during a reconfigured calendar that would see winter sports begin in November, followed by the end of fall and spring seasons, which could potentially push high school sports all the way into July of 2021.

On How Some Sports Could Be Played Differently

Indoor sports could look a lot different. We may see the MHSAA try to push for those sports to be played, but with strict guidelines, maybe no spectators, social distancing, masks for those who aren't on the field of play and on the sidelines. Again, that ruling as far as those guidelines have not been released just yet, and I'm sure when the council meets later on this month, they'll be releasing those.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

In less than a month, high school football players will be headed back onto the field for practice. The Michigan High School Athletic Association announced last week that fall sports would be going ahead as normally scheduled.

That’s after the coronavirus pandemic halted spring sports seasons earlier this year.

I’m joined by the host of Current Sports on WKAR NewsTalk, Al Martin, to explain what’s going to be different for student athletes this fall. Thanks for being here.

Al Martin: Of course. Thank you, Sophia.

Saliby: So, was this announcement by the MHSAA expected? Do you think this was the path you thought they were going to take?

Martin: No, honestly, this was not the path I expected from the Michigan High School Athletic Association. But you know, really, there is no blueprint for what is happening right now in our nation, let alone, our sports world. The numbers are steadily increasing and really the impact of the coronavirus has had in the sports world from collegiate athletics to pro sports, it's pretty profound, as many of us know. I thought there was going to be a big delay, or even have some sports that are played outdoors moved up in order to try and get some kind of season and to try and ensure that to some degree.

But, in a way, it reminds me of what we're seeing right now, Sophia, with some pro sports leagues, such as the National Football League. We know there's a pandemic, but we aren't going to shift our schedule until some kind of major outbreak happens or the numbers continue to get out of hand, or unless we're absolutely forced to make a change, which is why there are a few contingency plans when it comes to the MHSAA which I know we'll tackle in just a moment.

Saliby: Well, why don't we go ahead and talk about those plans for different options the association has set up if the pandemic gets worse [or] if the numbers continue to grow.

Martin: Certainly, so the fall season includes football, girls volleyball, boys soccer, girls swimming and diving, boys and girls cross country, girls golf and boys tennis. Girls tennis will commence in the [Upper Peninsula] only. Football is slated to begin practice August 10. The rest of the sports starting practice August 12.

Now, the contingency plans: delaying some or all fall sports practices or competitions [and] higher risk fall sports such as football and soccer postponed until later in the year with lower risk fall sports continuing as scheduled. So, for instance, if you have a high-risk sport, like football, Sophia, that could be postponed mid-season until later in the school year.

According to a press release, if all fall sports are suspended, they will be rescheduled during a reconfigured calendar that would see winter sports begin in November, followed by the end of fall and spring seasons, which could potentially push high school sports all the way into July of 2021.

So, you're looking at the MHSAA Representative Council, which is the association's 19-member legislative body. They plan to meet at the end of the month on July 29, for further discussion and plans. And again, these plans are all reliant on the Governor's Michigan Safe Start Plan. So, there's a lot of different scenarios that could play out here, Sophia.

Saliby: We've talked about the scheduling of sports, but what's actually going to be different this year when student athletes head into practice?

Martin: Yeah, and that is going to be ruled as we get closer and closer to August. But you know, right now, it's going to look drastically different. I mean, I'm just looking at what's happening in summer workouts. You have to adhere to the phase that we're in right now. I'm looking at, for instance, in that regard, sports such as girls volleyball, girls swimming and diving. You know, tennis is played outdoors, and there will only be girls tennis in the UP area, as I mentioned.

Indoor sports could look a lot different. We may see the MHSAA try to push for those sports to be played, but with strict guidelines, maybe no spectators, social distancing, masks for those who aren't on the field of play and on the sidelines.

Again, that ruling as far as those guidelines have not been released just yet, and I'm sure when the council meets later on this month, they'll be releasing those. So, it's still a lot of things are still being ironed out right now.

Saliby: Of course, and with the potential for seasons to be pushed back or moved around, how is this going to affect high school seniors who are hoping to move into collegiate sports in a year?

Martin: Yes, and that is also really early to tell just yet, but when you're looking at things at the college level, college sports are going to look drastically different this year. And that sports calendar is going to alter. It's just a fact of the matter right now.

On Current Sports, Sophia, one of the main discussions we've been having is whether or not we are even going to have college football this fall. That is looking very bleak. Conferences have already either moved to a Conference-only schedule or completely axed college football depending on the division you're discussing. Bottom line: Athletes everywhere are going to have to adjust in some way shape or form.

Saliby: Al Martin hosts Current sports for WKAR. Thank you for joining me.

Martin: Thank you so much, Sophia.