PORTSMOUTH — For now, the Ohio High School Athletic Association is optimistic — amid massive uncertainty.
That’s because, proceeding with caution, the OHSAA is aiming for fall sports seasons in 2020 to not only occur, but begin on time.
Then comes the burning question about whether fans will be permitted to attend OHSAA-sanctioned events in August, or September, or October, and or even November.
In a memo to member school administrators late Friday afternoon, and authored by OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass, the governing body remains hopeful for fall sports —as Ohio and the association remain reopening as part of the statewide response to the coronavirus threat.
The memo mainly focused on opening opportunities for “contact sports” competitions, the continued uncertainty which exists for fall sports, and an extra unknown of fall sports’ spectator attendance.
Among the fall “full contact” sports are football, volleyball and soccer, with winter “full contact” sports being basketball and wrestling.
Snodgrass, in bold in fact, wrote that he “anticipates that recommendations will be made in the near future to open opportunities for competitions for contact sports (those defined by the Governor’s previous orders). While we are not aware of any confirmed dates, the advisory group is working on restrictions/recommendations to permit them.”
“We can only provide the information to you as quickly as we receive it, but it does appear that the recommendations will be going to the Governor’s office soon to provide updates to permit more open opportunities for what currently are being defined as ‘Contact Sports’,” he wrote.
In other words, a state advisory panel will recommend to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s office if, when and even what “competitions” can begin for “full contact sports” — meaning such events as 7-on-7 football passing scrimmages or basketball summer shootouts.
DeWine will have the final say, but by being mid-June already, the clock is ticking — and the angst is mounting.
Official practices for fall sports are set to begin on Aug. 1, with the first weekend of Ohio high school football being the last weekend in August.
That said, Snodgrass simply wrote, “We remain optimistic that fall sports will begin on schedule”.
Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted, last month, announced that the state and the OHSAA have agreed to allow —started on Tuesday, May 26 —ALL student-athletes to begin individual skills training at school facilities, BUT at the discretion of individual school districts.
Hence, ALL sports —whether they are classified as “no contact” “low contact” or “full contact” —will once again permit skills training.
Skills training is defined and the mandated and recommended restrictions are posted at https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/responsible/Skills-Training-All%20Sports.pdf —as the six feet of social distancing rule applies to all players, coaches and parents.
The OHSAA — in following up from Friday’s May 22 memo to member schools — issued guidance to those member schools which are strongly suggested to be followed in three “phases”.
The memo states that “every school/program should start at Phase One of this program and remain there for at least 14 calendar days. If there is a downward/flat trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period, a school may progress to Phase Two, where a new 14-day period of tracking of cases should begin. If there is another 14-day downward/flat trajectory of cases, schools may progress to Phase Three.”
The list of guidelines for all three phases can be found at https://ohsaaweb.blob.core.windows.net/files/SchoolResources/OHSAAGuidance2020.pdf — and cloth face coverings should be considered acceptable in all phases.
In addition, Snodgrass wrote in that same memo that “the permissions for the sports announced today (Thursday, May 21) are for SKILL TRAINING ONLY. Today’s announcement does NOT permit competitions of any kind and there has been no date set for when competitions in these sports may begin.”.
In Friday’s (June 12) memo, in his opening remarks, Snodgrass wrote “the efforts by school districts, administrators and coaches to do this (restart) safely is commendable and an important step in returning fall sports on schedule.”
“While events taking place in/on school facilities often are interpreted to be OHSAA-regulated – they are not. Everything is restricted under rules/regulations/policies of local school districts and current Governor and Department of Health orders,” he wrote.
Also uncertain, as if the fate of 2020 fall sports themselves was not enough, is the fate of fan attendance for these seasons.
Snodgrass said it’s still a wait-and-see approach with DeWine’s office, but “most guidance for venues that have plans to reopen so far show restrictions on attendance”.
Spectator attendance is “everyone’s concern, especially considering how limited attendance could also have serious consequences to athletic department revenues. Nothing, of course, is etched in stone, but I would recommend at least planning on different models for this.”
“While there remain many unknowns and anything may change overnight, communications with the Governor’s office continue to reflect uncertainty with attendance,” wrote Snodgrass. “We anticipate guidance on this soon and, at the time of this communication, we believe attendance at events will likely follow some of the recent guidance for fairgrounds, etc., for indoor/outdoor ‘grandstand’ seating. Emphasis remains on ‘uncertainty,’ but this at least gives you a chance to start looking at ways in which you could structure seating at fall events.”
The memo also addressed NFHS (National Federation of High School Associations) playing-rule modifications, as “athletic directors and coaches will receive modifications from NFHS playing rules to accommodate the impact of COVID-19.”
“For example, with recommendations that athletes should not share water bottles, towels, etc., a normal 60-second timeout may require more time to meet the purpose of the timeout. This would not be possible without modifications to the actual playing rules,” the memo said. “The NFHS Rules Committees are working on these necessary modifications to keep each sport consistently officiated and conducted while understanding the changes that need to be made without being put into situations of just ‘allowing exceptions.’”
The OHSAA is also awaiting guidance on transportation — both for transporting students to and from school to transporting teams and marching bands to games.
On the financial cutbacks and savings front forced by COVID-19, the association announced changes regarding printed and mailed services.
It is not printing pocket calendars this year, the OHSAA handbook will be printed in-house and in an 8 1/2-x-11 format, the wall calendar continues to be printed through at least this year, and the OHSAA School Directory (http://officials.myohsaa.org/Outside/SearchSchool) will now be entirely online.
Since the outset of the coronavirus threat, the OHSAA has been in near lockstep with the state’s accompanying orders.
Friday’s memo was the latest in a series of communications from and actions by the OHSAA, which included an April 20 announcement that ALL 2020 spring sports seasons were officially canceled.
That expected announcement piggybacked an hours-earlier announcement by DeWine, who declared that the state’s schools would be closed for in-person attendance for the remainder of the (2019-20) academic year.
DeWine’s original announcement that schools be closed came on March 12, as Snodgrass sent a memo to member schools the following day to officially announce a mandated no-contact period.
That dead period has since been lifted of course, but the uncertainty still remains over whether fall sports —let alone ones with fan attendance — will take place.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved