In a responsible move that balances public health and desire to play school sports, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) this week approved delaying and shortening two major fall sports seasons. The league also agreed to allow other sports to start on time this month, but with shorter seasons and limited competition, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And although the state guidance is disappointing for many high school athletes and spectators, it's a reasonable compromise that wisely uses infection rate data to help protect students, coaches and fans from spreading the highly contagious virus. The decision is also informed by the experiences of pro sports — some of which have resumed play, but had to step back or cancel games or practices when players or staff tested positive for the virus.
Under the MSHSL ruling, football and volleyball will be played in a new, shorter season — sometime between winter and spring sports — that will end in mid-May. The modified fall season dates will then push spring sports such as softball and baseball later, ending in July rather than June. Other fall sports will have shorter seasons but can start on time this month.
Football players will have six regular-season games instead of nine, and volleyball tournaments will be eliminated. Neither sport will have scrimmages. More specific protocols for each sport will be left up to their respective MSHSL advisory committees.
The league said state Health Department guidelines must be followed for fan capacity and transportation, and that games will be suspended for school districts using only distance learning. Spectators must adhere to Health Department rules for indoor gatherings that call for social distancing, masking and attendance limits.
Like every other aspect of life in the coronavirus outbreak, the high school sports changes bring challenges. There are a lot of questions that will have to be addressed as they arise, including:
What happens when student-athletes or school staff test positive? Does the sport shut down, or can it continue safely? How will colleges and universities adjust for student-athletes who seeking scholarships with their senior season being played after those decisions are typically made? With the condensed and moved seasons, how will students who want to play more than one sport choose?
Those questions will have to be addressed nationwide as school sports make adjustments. As of Friday, Minnesota was one of 35 states that have delayed fall sports and among 13 that moved football to a different season, according the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The MSHSL canceled spring sports practice and competition this year after the winter sports season ended on March 13, during girls' and boys' postseason basketball play. Student-athletes, staff and fans are eager to bring sports back. But that should only be done when data show that risks are low. The MSHSL has given sensible guidance.