PHOENIX — The Arizona Interscholastic Association has heard from the schools. Now it’s time to take action on a more concrete plan for fall sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
After 251 of its 274-member schools responded to an AIA survey last week, executive director David Hines said an announcement could come as soon as Wednesday on what the fall high school sports seasons will look like.
“I think as long as the (Executive) Board gets all of the information, I think we can have our next plan in place to let people know on Wednesday or Thursday,” Hines said.
Aug. 17 was set as a target date last month by the AIA for football to begin official practices, because that was the date Gov. Doug Ducey gave to reopen schools for the 2020-21 academic year.
But some school districts have said they will stay with online learning into October, even if their schools are able to have on-campus, organized workouts.
In the feedback received by the schools in the survey, Hines said, “We got surprisingly a high percentage of schools that do want to participate in fall sports.”
“Again, it depends on where they’re at, what part of the state, as far as return to schools,” Hines said.
Hines planned to meet with the crisis management committee Tuesday and a study session for the Executive Board is scheduled for Wednesday.
In the survey, Hines said schools were asked when they’re anticipating returning to school and if they would allow high school athletics.
On Monday, the Arizona Football Coaches Association presented the AIA a plan to begin varsity football games Oct. 2, which would mean beginning official practices on Labor Day, Sept. 7.
The coaches’ association is suggesting an eight-game regular season and eight-team conference playoffs that would include the eight-team Open Division, which began for the first time last year when Chandler beat Scottsdale Saguaro 42-35 for the state title.
The Tucson Unified School District is following the Pima County administration on returning to fall athletics. It is waiting for students to return to school for athletics to take place. If that happens following Labor Day, then those football teams would only be in Phase 1, which wouldn’t give them enough time to start the season, if the coaches’ plan is used.
“We have multiple things we can do, depending on if we start a particular time and someone needs a week or two to meet,” Hines said. “We have some options to allow them to participate, even to be able to be involve in the playoffs.”
Hines said the committees will discuss scenarios, and determine how many games will need to be played in order to qualify for the playoffs.
“It probably will be somewhere in the neighborhood of four to six games,” Hines said.
Nothing is off the table, including having fall and spring seasons for those who feel they’re not ready to play in the fall.
“We’re not closing the door on any possible things,” Hines said. “There are certain things on certain areas what we can and can’t do. If there are plans or ideas that come up, the board will look at as many ideas as we can to help kids compete.
“It’s a little more challenging because of being a state association. There are 15 counties that probably are all over the board. We understand it’s unique. We’re not going to close the doors on things.”
Establishing dates has been difficult because of the COVID-19 data that comes in daily and not knowing where the next trend is headed.
“It would be easy if we had some specific date you can put our finger on (to start fall sports), but it keeps moving around,” Hines said. “We have different people with scenarios. We’re working hard at communicating. There are so many people on the medical side. We’re trying to mitigate and modify.”
Mitigating the spread of the virus is key with social distancing and masking, but high school students aren’t being tested and no high school season is going to be conducted in a bubble, like the NBA and NHL.
“The bottom line is if we’re going to try to get back, we really have to work together to do the thing to mitigate the possible contacts as much as possible,” Hines said. “We have to all work together to try to make this work.”
Football is the largest and considered the highest risk during the pandemic. Volleyball is considered moderate and golf, swimming, badminton and cross country lower risk.
However, swimming and cross country, especially at big meets, can hold as many as 100 athletes in some events.
Hines said there could be the possibility of running some virtual meets, especially for swimming, because all pools are a standard 25 yards and there isn’t the wind like in track that would serve as either an advantage or disadvantage to competitors.
He said the AIA could also look into minimizing the number of meets.
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