AIA issues a game plan for starting fall prep sports season

Arizona’s governing body for high school sports is throwing out a lifeline to as many schools as possible to provide options that could save the fall season amid the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this week, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) announced plans for opening the fall season for the various sports involved.  There will be staggered start dates,  with golf getting the OK to begin practice on Aug. 17, followed by cross country and swimming & diving on Aug. 24.  Volleyball, badminton, and soccer will follow on Aug. 31.

But the sport that has drawn the most attention, understandably, is football — which is considered to be in the highest-risk category because of its continuous game contact.  Players will be able to begin practicing on Sept. 7, with the first games scheduled for the week of Sept. 28.

The season would be pared down from 10 games to eight, with eight teams involved in the conference playoffs, which is in line with a recommendation from the Arizona Football Coaches Association.

The later start is welcome news for schools like Brophy Prep, one of the premier programs in the state, which, until now, was in jeopardy of sitting out the season.  The Catholic boys’ school in central Phoenix was the first to announce that it had a player who tested positive for the virus after participating in the summer conditioning program in June.

Brophy’s coaches decided the program would remain in Phase I mode, which limits practices to fewer than 10 players at a time.  Competition can’t be inserted into the process until it reaches Phase 3.  Brophy had decided it couldn’t ramp up to that level until at least Sept. 8.

The original timetable for getting back into the season was for practices to get underway Aug. 17, with games to begin Sept. 7.  But the new schedule gives teams like Brophy a chance to get back into the mix.

The AIA also points out that accommodations are being made for schools and districts that can’t begin at the earliest possible date to still join the competition and, if conference minimums are met, still be eligible for the postseason.

David Hines, the AIA executive director, said that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to considering options to get everybody back in the game.  That even includes the possibility of a second football season, in the spring, which would accommodate the schools that can’t get ready in time for a fall season.

A lot of time and effort went into the development of the plan, including surveys sent out to all the school administrators at the end of July, asking for feedback that would help guide the AIA in making its decisions on when and how to open fall sports.

There will undoubtedly be a few wrinkles to the final plan, as well as some twists and turns to accommodate the unpredictability of the virus.

But at least now the schools have a plan.