MIAA Board: No Fall Sports Until Sept. 14 at the Earliest
FRANKLIN, Mass. — If and when the commonwealth's guidelines allow the start of interscholastic athletics, the fall season will begin no earlier than Sept. 14.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Directors Tuesday voted unanimously to delay the start of preseason practices until mid-September at the earliest as the association awaits guidance from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Dr. Keith Crowley, the principal and associate head of school at St. John's Prep in Danvers, co-chairs the COVID-19 Task Force the MIAA established in the spring and presented to the board the Task Force's first set of recommendations.
The recommendation to delay the start of the fall season is based on a couple of factors, Crowley said in Tuesday's virtual meeting.
"The first is from the Sports Medicine Committee — the concern that if there were any positive [COVID-19] cases prior to the start of school, it could hinder the ability of schools to open,” Crowley said. "Ultimately, we wanted to suggest it's better to get the schools in and settled.
"From [school] superintendents and principals, there was a concern about getting everyone together and setting new norms about health and safety standards before breaking into smaller groups. …. This is a way for us to settle into a school structure.”
Crowley said that the latest school start date the COVID-19 Task Force is aware of is Sept. 10. A Sept. 14 start date would allow even that late-starting district to settle into a routine and orient students to social-distancing and cleanliness guidelines before starting sports practices.
The COVID-19 Task Force also recommended that the Board of Directors commit to making the DESE/EOEAA guidelines the cornerstone of any MIAA plan to conduct interscholastic athletics and that the board agree to meet three days after the release of those state guidelines to consider implementation.
Both those recommendations were adopted unanimously by the MIAA board.
One hour into Tuesday's meeting, the board was joined by Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley, who said that he expects the DESE and the EOEAA to issue their guidelines in early August.
In answer to a question from one of the board members, Riley said he expects a separate set of guidelines on student transportation — which will impact both the start of school and sports — to be released "by Friday.”
Riley also was asked whether the commonwealth would consider allowing some sports to be played but not others. He said everything is on the table at this point.
"I think we're going to look at all possibilities to see what could be done,” Riley said. "I wouldn't say it definitely will or will not be all or nothing. We recognize some sports may be more intensive than others.
"We're going to look at all the information and really work with the medical professionals to figure out what the best plan of action is. I wouldn't rule out anything at this point.”
Riley said he is a former student-athlete himself and a big supporter of high school athletics but the commonwealth's thinking about the resumption of sports — which were suspended during championship week for the 2019-20 basketball and hockey seasons — will be guided by advice from scientists and medical experts.
For his part, the president of the MIAA Board said that the MIAA's actions will be guided by DESE and the EOEAA. The work of the COVID-19 Task Force is intended to put the MIAA in position to move forward when the state guidelines are released, said Jeff Granatino, the superintendent of the Marshfield Public Schools.
"It is understood that there is no guarantee that sports will be allowed to take place, but since the spring, it's been incumbent upon the association to have plans in place if we were told we would be allowed to have sports,” Granatino said. "To have no plans … would be irresponsible on our part.”
MIAA Associate Executive Director Sherry Bryant, who serves on the COVID-19 Task Force, related to the Board of Directors the results of a survey that the association conducted about the priorities for the return of fall sports.
Bryant said the mid-June survey of school superintendents, coaches, athletic directors and other stakeholders garnered more than 1,000 responses, and the results were clear.
"You can see that it really is true that all constituents who weighed in cited the health of our student-athletes and staff as of the highest priority,” Bryant said. "That includes the prioritization of the mental health of student-athletes.
"All constituencies also cited the return to schools as a top priority above getting back for preseason activities. There also is an emphasis on regular season play opportunities. … The state tournament is at the bottom of the list [of respondents' priorities].”