Re-start prep sports? AZ should keep an eye on Florida’s plan

Pay attention, Arizona.  Now there’s a ‘canary in the coal mine’ to help you make a decision about how to proceed with the fall high school sports season amid COVID-19 concerns.

The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) just made the decision to stick with the original pre-virus start date for fall sports, providing other states with a test case as they struggle with the tumultuous decision on when to  re-start sports programs.

Florida becomes the ‘canary’, which the early coal miners would release into a mine to determine if there were gases that would make it dangerous for humans to enter.  Today’s invisible threat is a coronavirus.

In a 10-4 vote, the FHSAA cleared the way for sports participation to begin July 27, the date initially designated before the virus outbreak.  If that idea is successful, other states may re-think any plans to delay the season start.

At the time of the vote, Florida’s total of coronavirus cases stood at 360,000, making it one of the hot spots in the nation.  Arizona, another hot spot,  is currently showing 153,000 confirmed cases.

Just as elsewhere in the country, the decision is not without controversy.  In fact, the Florida association’s sports medicine advisory committee recommended delaying the start of football and volleyball.  And that controversy is not unique to Florida.

Arizona is one of 13 states that have delayed their start dates, and three other states that have outright cancelled the fall season.  The Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA), the governing body for high school sports in this state, announced last week that the fall sports season will be delayed up to three weeks.

Football, of course, is the sport drawing the lion’s share of attention.  The AIA’s plan right now calls for being able to complete a full season of 8-10 games, with the first games kicking off during the week of Sept. 7.

Volleyball, cross country, and soccer will also have the same start dates.  The other fall sports may also be able to get in a full season, based on this preliminary plan.

A majority of states now have elected to push back the start of football season.  But our neighbor, California, just dropped a bombshell by deciding to move its fall sports season from August back to a start in December.  California is now one of just four states that will begin in December, the others being New Mexico, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

But California’s decision has the greatest impact on Arizona since there are many games with nearby California teams included each season on local schedules, not to mention tournaments that involve both states.

States are all over the board on how they want to handle the re-start of athletics.  For example, Mississippi and Georgia have simply moved the start of the fall season back a couple of weeks to Sept. 4, while New York has moved the start date to Sept. 21 and eliminated state championships, and New Jersey won’t begin play until Oct. 1.  Everybody’s got their own solution to the problem, but it’s still a guessing game.

The most radical idea out there involves moving some fall sports, most notably football, to the spring season.  That idea has its pros and cons, but the AIA doesn’t consider it a viable option.  “It doesn’t make sense for us to look at that because there’s a lot of other things going on that kids are involved in,” says AIA Executive Director David Hines.

He points out that a significant problem would involve the coaching, explaining that coaches are hired for a particular season and might not even be available at a different time of the year, since many off-campus coaches have to schedule their coaching duties around their outside jobs.

“This thing is moving at such a pace that every time you think you might have a plan, a new day comes about and we have to re-think the plans that we have,” added Hines.

But, for now, Hines makes it clear that whatever the AIA decides to do is predicated on any executive orders from Gov. Doug Ducey about when, and how, the schools will re-open.

At a news conference just yesterday, Ducey re-affirmed the scheduled target date for re-opening Arizona schools as Aug. 17, when in-person instruction is to resume in grades K-12, despite pressure from various groups to move the date back.

If the Republican governor continues to stand his ground, the AIA will likely stick to a Sept. 7 opening week for football.

But, as Hines points out, the situation seems to change on an almost daily basis.

So stay tuned, sports fans.  Friday-night lights will eventually shine bright again.  We just aren’t sure when.