On the eve of arguably one of the most anticipated recommendations in its 105-year history, the Minnesota State High School League discussed two scenarios Monday for fall sports to resume competition.
One of them would start a fall sport’s season as scheduled, on Aug. 17, with modifications as needed for safety, equity and consistency. “Can we possibly have a fall with team sports not majorly impacted by COVID?” Edina athletic director Troy Stein asked during the workshop. “Could we pull that off?”
The other option discussed was to move one or more fall sports to the spring of 2021, effectively creating what is being labeled “a fourth season.”
“That’s kind of a general concept right now. No dates are set,” league associate director Bob Madison said. “For example, any sports moved to spring would run from March 15 to May 15. And the fourth season would go from May 15 to July 15.”
Members of the league’s recently formed return-to-participation task force, which worked on the proposals, acknowledged that moving an entire season comes with drawbacks, such as the potential departure of athletes who graduate and a lack of available indoor facilities in early spring. “We have weather to think about here,” Madison said.
The league’s board of directors will meet Tuesday and is expected to vote and decide how to proceed. Each fall sport is expected to be considered individually.
It was emphasized that the board has the ability to mix and match what it deems the best parts of each proposal. “They could take option A and option B and come up with option C,” Madison said.
The high school league shut down all athletic competition in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This summer, the MSHSL has allowed for team workouts within recommended guidelines.
The league formed the task force on July 14 to guide the resumption of activities for the upcoming school year, with fall sports practice scheduled to start Aug. 17. Fall sports include football, volleyball, soccer, cross-country, girls’ tennis, girls’ swimming and diving and adapted soccer.
Last week, Gov. Tim Walz announced the state’s plan for the return to education, giving individual school districts the ability to set their own agenda moving forward and asking that each follow recommended guidelines.
Taking that action into account, the league task force on Friday presented four potential frameworks for resuming play before narrowing them down to two by Monday.
Any decisions made Tuesday will likely change as more information becomes available, MSHSL Executive Director Erich Martens said during the meeting. “Adaptability and flexibility continue to be constants,” he said. “We’re going to have to be ready to change if we start something and it gets set back.”
Using Major League Baseball’s return as an example, Madison stressed that whichever direction the board leans, the decision will not be the final word on the viability of returning to competition.
“We know how Major League Baseball started and now what it looks like,” he said. “Bringing that down to our micro-level, everything is going to be impacted by the student-athletes and their coaches.”
A significant part of each plan was prioritizing regional competition. Limiting travel, and thus exposure, will likely have an effect on fall state tournaments, Madison said: “They could really have a different look. They could look more like section championships.”
Beyond the board’s announcement, much remains undecided, such as transportation, safety protocols and length of the season. Currently the league is aiming for a 30% reduction in games/events and a 20% reduction in the length of the season for all sports.
The board is expected to leave specifics of each sport up to their representative sport advisory committees and coaches associations, with the expectation they follow guidelines set by the state’s health and education departments.