JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Flexibility remains the key word, but concrete answers remain elusive for the Florida High School Athletic Association as it stares down multiple fall sports scenarios in the face of a global pandemic.
The FHSAA Fall Sports Task Force spent Thursday evening discussing options for a high school season as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on and a start date to the season closes in.
No substantial recommendations emerged from the meeting other than to look a little closer at an Aug. 10 start date of practice. An FHSAA board of directors meeting is expected by the end of the month to discuss suggestions of the task force.
That start date remains unchanged as of now, July 27, and the hope is for schools to be able to begin on that date or as close to it as possible. The reality of that happening across 67 different districts in Florida remains, at best, extremely optimistic.
“We’re certainly going to follow the lead of our Governor and our commissioner of education,” said FHSAA executive director George Tomyn. “… And right now, we’ve made no changes. That is a decision, decision is to go forward with the current schedule that we have to listen to the whatever recommendations come from this task force, and if President [Lauren] Otero decides to call a board meeting, then this task force, I gather, through Ms. Otero, would bring some sort of recommendation to the board of directors and then the board of directors would either act or not act or act in another way.”
While districts in the area remain working out and taking a measured approach in their return to voluntary workouts, others across the state, notably in South Florida, for example, are nowhere near a return.
That’s what makes this situation so challenging.
Working off of a plan proposed last week by FHSAA’s Justin Harrison, the task force brought up questions on just about everything ranging from officials opting out of games due to the coronavirus to when games can realistically start.
Tomyn said that the FHSAA will defer to individual districts on attendance at games and testing for the virus. Travel out of county for games is also a local level decision, too.
At this point, there remains a laundry list of questions and not many answers. Harrison reiterated that the FHSAA would be flexible in dealing with schools that are struggling with coronavirus situations out of their control and drove that point home throughout the meeting.
Harrison’s plan that the task force voted to explore in greater detail included four options or divisions for schools to begin play in. At the end of the near two and a half hour meeting, the task force did agree to shave off the initial window and trim the four divisions to three.
The first two divisions would have Aug. 10-22 and Aug. 24-Sept. 5 as the dates to begin practice in. Kickoff dates would fall between Aug. 31-Sept. 12 and Sept. 14-26, respectively. Both would abide by the current FHSAA playoff calendar.
The FHSAA would then reclassify teams — place schools with other schools who started at the same time — following a Sept. 11 deadline. Those first two scenarios would involve redistributing teams and the elimination of the current classification structure.
A third division would have practice start after Sept. 7 and a regular season start date of Sept. 28 or beyond. The FHSAA has proposed regional playoffs in that scenario.
Carlos Ochoa, the athletic director at Hialeah Gardens High, said that the hope for schools in the southern part of the state is just to be able to play.
“I think we throw the equitability issue aside. This whole thing isn’t about equitability at this point. At this point again, what I mentioned before, it’s about salvaging what we can,” Ochoa said. “What we’re able to give the best possible experience to our student athletes without putting them in jeopardy, without putting our coaches or officials and our fans in jeopardy, because as it stands right now, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have fans. Financially, this is going to be monumental on every program because we rely on that revenue.”
John Scarpino of the Mid-Coast Officials Association, said that officials in his area remain concerned about returning to the field with no blanket safety measures in place.
“I don’t know if you guys are aware, the Ivy League has canceled their fall sports, OK. There’s another conference out that has canceled fall sports as well. There’s two junior colleges statewide that has canceled all their games because they can’t mitigate this risk right now. And that’s a major issue,” Scarpino said.
“So, I’m just bringing that to the forefront right now. We’re talking about coming back and playing and I’m all for that, but if we can’t ensure some at least proper guidelines straight across the state, and what are we doing, from a health standpoint of the coaches, the players and the officials, then what are we doing?”