PORTSMOUTH — It appears, at long last, that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s waiting game with state sports is indeed over.
That’s because, during a press briefing on Friday, DeWine said a significant announcement regarding fall sports should be made this week — with the decision encompassing professional, college, high school and junior high sports.
For Scioto County, and including Shawnee State University, the possibilities range from having delayed and/or shortened seasons to those flipped with the spring — to even an altogether outright, and unthinkable, cancelled campaign.
For the Ohio High School Athletic Association-sanctioned sports and their student-athletes and coaches, which are still practicing in preparation for fall seasons despite the ongoing coronavirus threat, it’s going to be a tense time.
Some student-athletes are returning to play — in the “low contact” or “non contact” sports of volleyball, girls tennis, golf and now cross country.
The first boys and/or girls golf matches did take place last Wednesday (Aug. 5), while the first girls tennis matches did take place beginning Friday (Aug 7).
After an allowable five scrimmages and one permitted preview, volleyball’s first contest can take place on Aug. 21.
Those sports must also continue to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines, as they were allowed to resume practice the day after Memorial Day.
While “full contact” sports, which for Scioto County are only football and soccer, may proceed with practices — inter-squad competition remains prohibited “unless ALL teams comply with the requirements set forth in Section 10 of this Order so as to minimize the spread of COVID-19. This Order applies to both public and private activities and facilities”.
“This Order” is an extension of an original Ohio Department of Health order which was initially signed on July 4, and currently has no new expiration date — as DeWine signed it late last Saturday night (Aug. 1).
In an e-mailed memo to member schools on July 28, the OHSAA announced the immediate and indefinite suspension of ALL inter-squad scrimmages and contests — and didn’t anticipate that suspension being lifted any time soon.
Then on Friday, in a swift late-day news dump that actually included a bombshell announcement, the OHSAA Board of Directors “approved a modification to the (OHSAA) football season that we believe will be a win‐win for all parties.”
That press release proceeded an e-mailed memo to member schools from OHSAA interim Executive Director Bob Goldring, as he wrote that “while affirming that our fall sports seasons will start as planned, the modification will shorten the length of the 2020 football regular season to a six‐game schedule prior to the playoffs beginning.”
A 10-game regular season reduced down to six, starting the week of Aug. 24 and ending the week of Sept. 28.
The playoffs would begin on Friday, Oct. 9 — with the state finals ending no later than Saturday, Nov. 21.
But wait, there’s more — as the entire football-specific press release can be found at www.ohsaa.org and/or www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com.
Speaking of the playoffs, “all football‐playing schools will now be eligible to enter the 2020 playoffs. Schools also will be afforded the opportunity to play 10 total regular-season contests — whether they continue regular season games after they are eliminated from the playoffs or should they decide not to enter the playoffs — as long as they complete their season by Nov. 14. This raises the possibility of schools generating some revenue through gate receipts, and allowing schools to play after being eliminated from the playoffs is similar to regulations that already exist for many other OHSAA sports. Additionally, this means schools that may be delayed in starting their seasons could still have a football season.”
As for what prompted this surprising turn of events only a week into official practice?
Goldring wrote that the OHSAA, “in continuing our constructive, ongoing conversations with the Governor’s Office, we were advised this week that ending our season earlier in football was in the best interest of the participants due to the uncertainty of what colder weather could do to COVID‐19 cases. It should be noted (and as previously communicated) that school vs. school competition in football (and the other contact sports of soccer and field hockey) will not move forward unless the Ohio Director of Health’s Order is amended.”
The OHSAA BOD approved the measure by a unanimous 9‐0 vote, and following a recommendation from the OHSAA staff —which followed DeWine’s recommendation that the regular season stop earlier.
As part of this plan, the Harbin Computer Ratings to determine playoff qualifiers will not be used for the 2020 season and instead a seeding system via voting of coaches — similar to what occurs with other OHSAA team sports — will be utilized to place teams on the bracket of their respective divisions.
New regions will be determined, the pairings will be announced on Oct. 1, and the number of playoff rounds will be dependent upon the number of schools entering the playoffs in each division.
Other playoff details include:
• All playoff contests through the regional semifinals (and possibly the regional finals) will be hosted by the higher-seeded team
• Schools must commit to participate in the playoffs by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17
• Playoff regions will be drawn on Friday, Sept. 18
• Schools may withdraw from the playoffs without penalty until Thursday, Sept. 24
“The highest number of responses to one of the questions posed of superintendents, principals and athletic administrators in a recent OHSAA membership survey indicated that nearly 60-percent (890 of 1,498 respondents) favored either reducing the regular season and maintaining full OHSAA tournaments or maintaining the full regular season and maintaining full OHSAA tournaments,” Goldring wrote.
Of course, until DeWine’s approval is met, the plan is moot.
For football (target date of Monday, Aug. 24) and soccer (target date of Friday, Aug. 21), that day’s (July 31) memo mentioned “school vs. school contests will follow per their normal OHSAA permissible dates and regulations” with their respective target dates, BUT “these dates are subject to change and subject to the approval from the Governor’s Office/Ohio Department of Health and with the stipulation that COVID‐19 testing will not be required”.
While most of the state presently presses on, many Ohio high school programs —including some of the larger districts in the larger cities —have either cancelled fall sports, or have delayed them until at least Oct. 1.
Several have shut down within the last month — due to either positive cases of the coronavirus or fears of it spreading among student-athletes and coaches.
Those athletics activities shutdowns are largely based on the recommendation by individual county health departments, as the OHSAA holds firm that extra-curriculars are strictly a decision made by each individual Ohio school district.
During DeWine’s Friday briefing, he said that in conversations with statewide school superintendents, students’ time spent after school is of high concern.
“When we talk about our students, when we talk about our student-athletes, I truly believe that the schools are doing absolutely everything they can to protect our students, whether they’re an athlete or not an athlete, whether they’re in drama or whatever they are in,” he said. “One of the grave concerns that we have is when schools open back up, we have people who are vulnerable.”
Goldring wrote that Ohio’s student-athletes’ safety, health and well-being are the OHSAA’s utmost priority.
“The Governor understands that interscholastic sports are different than other forms of competition because we are education‐based and are able to implement best practices for dealing with COVID‐19 restrictions. So, if we want our students to have the privilege of competing in interscholastic athletics, it’s going to be up to all of us to make sure all mandates and protocols are being followed. We all need to be diligent and be disciplined,” he wrote. “The OHSAA is prepared to set COVID‐19‐related requirements for schools to follow for competitions and could issue consequences for the violation of these requirements as prescribed in OHSAA Bylaw 11, Penalties. The requirements will be related to many of the same protocols and mandates already in place for many sectors as they relate to symptom assessments; temperature checks; facial coverings; social distancing; cleaning and sanitizing, and confirmed COVID‐19 cases/exposure to the virus.”
Goldring added that those requirements may be finalized this week —depending upon, of course, what DeWine will have to say.
Either way, it indeed appears —at long last — that DeWine’s waiting game with state sports is over.
DeWine will have, or is scheduled to have, another press briefing on Tuesday (Aug. 11) at 2 p.m.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved