The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Board of Directors usually conducts its business in relative anonymity.
But not since the coronavirus upended the high school sports stratosphere with the cancellation of the state basketball and hockey championships in mid-March and continuing with the cancellation of the entire spring season in late April.
The Board of Directors will once again find itself center stage when it meets virtually at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss — and presumably vote — on four recommendations put forth by the MIAA COVID-19 Task Force crafted in hopes of seeing sports played in some way, shape and form during the 2020-21 school year.
The four recommendations are:
1.) A four-season sports calendar in which all fall sports with the exception of football would be conducted from Sept. 14 to Nov. 20; winter sports would take place from Nov. 30 to Feb. 21; football, fall cheering, unified basketball, and sports not played in the fall because of remote learning would be contested during a “fourth season” from Feb. 22 to April 5; and spring sports would be played from April 26 to July 3.
2.) Member schools will have the ability to adjust dates with the approval of their district athletic committee to allow flexibility if a school is unable to play at the onset of the seasonal start dates or has to postpone a season once it’s in progress.
3.) Suspending Rule 40 in the MIAA handbook for the 2020-21 school year, which would allow out-of-season coaching to take place.
4.) Sports committees will be assigned the duty of meeting the modifications necessary to fit the guidelines for youth and adult amateur sports activities released Thursday by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. (For a refresher, those are the ones that say, among other things, football can be played so long as there’s no blocking and tackling.)
A subcommittee of the COVID-19 Task Force met Saturday, per Matt Feld of the Boston Herald, to craft the recommendations. They were approved for forwarding to the Board of Directors by the entire task force Monday morning.
The task force then met with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education later that day to present its recommendations. DESE along with the EEA is setting the guidelines by which sports can be played and the MIAA must be in compliance with them even if they differ from its own course of action.
Per the Herald, DESE “is expected to allow kids to play this year.”
A couple of interesting thoughts:
• The Board of Directors approved last month, per the task force’s recommendation, to push the start of preseason practice for fall sports from Aug. 21/24 to Sept. 14 to allow students to get acclimated to school first.
But since then DESE announced schools can delay the start of the school year by up to 10 days, but no later than Sept. 16. That means, should fall sports take place, most athletes will be practicing before they attend their first class, which would eliminate the acclimation process.
Should the MIAA Board of Directors go forward with the Sept. 14 start date, does that mean they no longer feel there’s a need for students to get acclimated to what is going to be a certainly unique and possibly uncomfortable learning experience?
• There is going to be a lot of pressure from coaches, athletes, parents, and fans on the MIAA sports committees to make this happen by modifying their sports to fit the state’s safety standards.
Some of those committees will be placed in an untenable position, specifically those governing “higher risk” sports. Topping the list are football and wrestling and, to a certain extent, basketball and hockey.
For football, that mean’s coming up with a way to eliminate blocking and tackling from the game. Although with the season being put off until February there’s obviously time for things to change for the better with regard to metrics.
Not sure how wrestling can take place as “deliberate close contact must be eliminated,” but boys’ hockey could follow the lead of their female counterparts and eliminate checking. And basketball would seem to be doable.
Leominster High principal Steve Dubzinski is the lone representative from Central Mass. on the 24-member COVID-19 Task Force. He politely declined to comment on the recommendations when reached at school Tuesday, saying committee members have been instructed to forward all media requests to MIAA director of communications Tara Bennett.
“Everyone has put a lot of time and effort in and there has been a lot of communication and collaboration at the state level,” Bennett said of the work of the EEA, DESE and MIAA to try to get the return of high school sports.
“I think that’s something Massachusetts should be proud of. … There are just a lot of pieces to the puzzle and hopefully that puzzle will come together shortly.”
—Contact Rich Garven at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG.
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