What will high school sports look like when they eventually resume?
The National Federation of State High School Associations issued a 16-page document Tuesday offering guidance to 51 governing bodies of the nation’s high school athletics in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The document offers a blueprint of recommendations.
Most noteworthy, the NFHS suggested that even a scaled-down version of football practice should not begin until a state or local health department reaches Phase 3 of its recovery plan from the coronavirus.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam began Phase 1 on May 15.
If the Virginia High School League waits until Phase 3 or beyond before allowing football to take place, will high school football be played at all in Virginia in 2020?
The answer might come June 25 when the Virginia High School League Executive Committee next convenes.
“I think we’ll do something that day,” said Franklin County principal Jon Crutchfield, who is the chairman-elect of the executive committee. “I really don’t think we’ll do anything sooner than that unless the governor speeds up his timeline.
“I really think we’ll see something come out of that meeting.”
The VHSL, which oversees its 317-member public schools, released a statement earlier this week declaring that its officials are meeting regularly with “region superintendents, principals, athletic directors, and the VHSL Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC)” to develop plans for resuming practices and events for all sports.
The NFHS offered four initial questions to consider in its document:
- Will games take place if schools are closed to in-person learning?
- Will games and championships be held if schools are closed within a state only in COVID-19 “hot spots.”
- Will sports considered “lower-risk” be allowed while those considered “higher-risk” are shut down?
- Does the state have “unique” guidelines that might affect a return to activity?
The document breaks down its proposed guidelines based on Phases 1, 2 and 3 of a state’s recovery plan.
Suggestions under Phase 1 include:
- Screenings of athletes and coaches for COVID-19 symptoms prior to any workout.
- No open locker rooms.
- No gathering of more than 10 people indoors or outdoors.
- Workouts conducted in pods with the same 5-10 students always in the same group.
- A minimum of 6 feet between each individual at all times.
Examples of the Phase 1 suggestions include:
- Multiple players are not allowed to touch the same ball during any drill.
- No shared equipment such as volleyballs, blocking sleds, or baseball gloves and bats.
- No shared water bottles.
Under Phase 2, the NFHS recommends loosening some restrictions:
- Lower-risk sports practices and competitions can resume.
- Modified practices can begin for moderate-risk sports.
- Up to 50 people can take part in an outdoor workout.
- Locker rooms are open, but the 6-foot barrier between individuals must be maintained.
Once a state reaches Phase 3, the NFHS advises the following:
- Indoor and outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people are permitted.
- Moderate-risk sports can begin.
- Higher-risk sports including football should begin modified practices. States should study the updated data about COVID-19, including how other states and other levels of competition are reacting to determine when games can resume.
The NFHS classifies sports by risk factor as follows:
- Higher risk — Football, wrestling, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer.
- Moderate risk — Basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, gymnastics, field hockey, tennis, swimming relays, pole vault, high jump, girls lacrosse and 7-on-7 football.
- Lower risk — Individual running events, shot put, discus, individual swimming, golf and cross country running (with staggered starts).
The NFHS document also lists several general points of emphasis:
- Teams should avoid long trips to play games.
- Spectators should not be allowed into games until a state or local health department lifts restrictions on mass gatherings.
- Cloth face coverings are recommended during certain activities.