MHSAA moves football to spring, then back to the fall

Photo by Larry Caruso

Let the flip-flopping begin.

Back on Aug. 14 the Michigan High School Athletic Association announced it was postponing the 2020 Michigan high school football season and moving it to the Spring of 2021.

The football season switch was made based on consultation with state health department officials and after surveying MHSAA member high schools on their progress and preferences after the first four days of practice. 

Football is considered a high-risk sport for potential spread of the COVID-19 virus because of its level of player-to-player contact.

A total of 34,219 student-athletes played football at MHSAA member schools during the 2019 season. A total of 520 11-player teams and 83 8-player teams were anticipated during late summer to play football this fall season.

On Sept. 3, following a new executive order from Gov, Gretchen Whtmer (Executive Order 176), the MHSAA reversed its decision and moved the season back to the fall.

Teams will be allowed to start practicing Sept. 8, with the first games scheduled for the week of Sept. 15-17.

There will be a postseason tournament beginning Oct. 30-31 with all teams that choose to play this fall making the state tournament, thereby guaranteeing all teams at least seven games this season.

The MHSAA said it understands that some schools may choose not to participate this fall and the state tournament format will be determined after the complete number of schools playing football this fall are determined.

The MHSAA gave the following reasons for its reversal:

1. Executive Order 176 now allows all sports, including football, to move forward and be administered by MHSAA member schools. 

2. Twenty-five other states started football practices and games safely and successfully in early August with another eight states scheduled to begin fall football practice soon. 

3. The Big Ten is exploring a fall season start that could begin as early as October or November. 

4. MHSAA member schools reported a successful football acclimatization week from August 10- 14. Executive Order 160 prevented consideration to move to the next phased-in steps of padded practices and games. 

5. Member schools have reported successful starts to fall sports in cross country, golf, tennis, soccer, swimming & diving and volleyball over the past three weeks. When positive COVID cases have been identified, they have been handled safely and appropriately by the involved schools working with health department officials. This process is part of our new reality in returning to schools and sports in the time of COVID. 

6. MHSAA COVID guidance and safety protocols are among the best in the nation. We have safe plans in place, created in partnership with the National Federation (NFHS) and the Sports Medicine Advisory Committees (SMAC) of both the MHSAA and NFHS, to minimize as much risk as possible.

 7. Numerous non-school football opportunities have emerged over the past 14 days, proving that kids would have been playing football this fall. From the outset, we have said that we believe student-athletes are safest in our school-based programs led by educators. 

8. All of us share the fundamental belief that we must protect the health and safety of individuals first. This includes not only COVID prevention measures, but also the mental health of teenage students and adults as well. Many recent studies and publications surmise that the greatest health and safety risk currently is mental health. The opportunity to participate in fall sports will provide countless benefits for the mental health of our students. 

9. For many kids, sports are the most significant motivating factor to keep them in school and progressing toward graduation. Given additional challenges of online education, sports and the daily routine they bring is perhaps more important now than ever before.

The MHSAA added this: Consistent with all previous health epidemics, local schools will follow guidance from their respective local health departments, and abide by all state government mandates, to decide locally if their school and students will play. 

We understand that some schools will not choose to participate in this restarted, shortened fall season. 

The MHSAA Constitution and Handbook does not require a school to play a sport or enter any MHSAA tournament if that school chooses not to play or instead decides to play the sport in a different season. Schools may still play football in the spring, organizing a local or league schedule but no MHSAA tournament will be offered. 

The ultimate authority is local control and schools may conduct a sport season at a time different than the MHSAA conducts its season-ending tournaments. 

Other sports

Previous to Sept. 3 and the issuance of Executive Order 176 the sports of boys and girls cross country, boys tennis and girls golf were allowed to start their season as scheduled.

Soccer, volleyball and girls swimming & diving – indoor sports – were allowed to practice outdoors, but have no competitions. The new executive order opens the door for them to begin play, too.

Sideline cheer activities (practices and cheering for fall contests) are allowed until the preseason downtime for competitive cheer begins on Oct. 25. 

Sideline cheer activities must follow the protocol of using face-coverings, physical distancing and no stunting which keeps this activity in the low-risk group. This activity must take place outdoors.

All of these activities are subject to change per future Executive Orders. 

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.

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