The Minnesota State High School League, faced with the impossible task of navigating the 2020-21 sports calendar in a way that would make everyone happy, arrived at a decision Tuesday that seems like a reasonable compromise.
Football and Volleyball have been moved to start in March. Other scheduled fall sports seasons will continue as planned, but with limits.
Is it perfect? No, because no decision in a pandemic is perfect.
But I appreciate two things about it: 1) It has logic behind it. 2) It is a firm decision, which indicates a level of accountability missing in other recent decisions locally and nationally.
The safest choice from a pure COVID perspective would be to postpone all sports. From a mental health standpoint and from a handful of other perspectives that might not be the best choice.
So it comes down to risk management and deciding which sports have a better chance to have seasons in the safest way possible. Is there hard science saying soccer (which is starting) is safer than volleyball? Probably not a lot of double-blind studies, but there is at least the notion that outside is much safer than inside.
Is there a way football — primarily an outdoor sport — could have been played safely? Maybe, but we haven’t really tried it during a pandemic and some of the returns on early workouts at multiple levels haven’t been encouraging. You take the potentially highest-risk sport and move it to spring, when hopefully our country will have a much better handle on coronavirus.
And you let individual sports attempt to have seasons — albeit altered and shorter.
The elephant in the room with every plan like this, though — from preps to pros — is that a disproportionate amount of the energy seems to go into the decision itself while not enough time is spent gaming out scenarios for if and when things go wrong.
What happens when an athlete test positive for COVID? What does it take to shut a team or season down? These are questions that will need firm answers as well.
But at least this is a plan. Major colleges have been deferring and delaying a lot of these same decisions.
The decision on Minnesota schools last week wasn’t so much a decision as a set of guidelines to help others eventually make decisions — smart from a scientific standpoint and useful as a way of buying time to gather more information but probably frustrating for a lot of districts and useless for parents who want to start planning for what happens a month from now.
When you make a plan, people can start reacting to it. It does not mean there can’t be adjustments as more information becomes available, but it’s a starting point with clear lines.
The MSHSL sports plan is going to frustrate some people, particularly football and volleyball players who are faced with the prospect of a long winter. Trying to have any high school sports in a pandemic might prove untenable, which would give anyone right now saying shut it all down the right to be retroactively frustrated and sad. Those who play spring sports have a right to be worried about how this will impact their seasons.
But I think the MSHSL did about as well as it could. We can’t ask for much more these days.