MIAA Board Approves Calendar that Shifts Football to February, Nixes Fall State Tourneys

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
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FRANKLIN, Mass. -- The MIAA Board  of Directors Wednesday morning approved a plan that moves football and other sports the commonwealth considers at a high-risk for COVID-19 transmission to a newly created Fall II season that will be wedged between the winter and spring.
Under the plan unanimously approved on a conference call of the directors, the state’s governing body for high school athletics will sanction football, Unified basketball and competitive cheer competitions for a season that runs from Feb. 22 to April 25, designating the “Fall Sports II” or “Floating Season,” in line with a recommendation from the association’s COVID-19 Task Force.
Fall Sports II also could be the place for other traditional fall sports if they are not able to be played in a given school district because of that district’s COVID-19 status in September, October and November.
Otherwise, preseason practice for soccer, cross country, volleyball and golf teams in Berkshire County begins on Sept. 18 for a fall season that will run through Nov. 20.
Winter sports would run from Nov. 30 through Feb. 21. Spring sports would run from April 26 through July 3.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Board agreed not to hold state tournaments for the Fall 1 sports and agreed to revisit the issue of tournament play for each season at subsequent meetings throughout the year. That decision does not, board members stressed, preclude regional governing bodies -- MIAA districts and/or leagues -- from holding their own end-of-the-season tournaments if they so choose.
Flexibility, local decision making and local competition were themes throughout Wednesday’s meeting.
In addition to eliminating the academic year’s first round of state tournaments, the governing body voted to “encourage schools to create a fall season schedule within leagues, or geographic regions, to limit travel and number of opponents.”
The directors also agreed to give school principals the authority to allow out-of-season coaching throughout the sports year, from Sept. 18 through July 3, 2021. That change produced some of the most debate among the board members and a series of split decisions on amendments to the task force’s proposal and the proposal itself, as ultimately amended. 
Coaches getting ready for the “Fall I” season also are going to need to be flexible.
The COVID-19 Task Force recommendations presented to the Board of Directors on Wednesday did not include any discussion of the modifications that will need to be made to soccer, cross country, volleyball and golf in order to bring them in line with guidelines released last week by the commonwealth’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Instead, the Task Force recommended that individual sport committees and the MIAA’s Sports Medicine Committee develop guidelines to give to the Task Force by Aug. 25. The Task Force then would present finalized fall sport modifications to the MIAA president and executive director by Aug. 28 for “final consideration” and attestation to the state by Sept. 1.
The good news for student-athletes is that the flexibility also extends to the number of sports in which they potentially could participate in the 2020-21 academic year.
The MIAA board agreed unanimously with a proposal to allow students to take part in all four seasons: Fall 1, Winter, Fall 2 and Spring, if their school ends up offering sports in all four seasons.
Part of the rationale for departing from the usual three-sport limit is that the MIAA cannot foresee how many of those sports seasons actually will take place.
“We don’t know what to expect,” said Mount Greylock Athletic Director Lindsey von Holtz, who serves as the vice president of the MIAA board. “We’re hoping for the best, but I’d hate to see a student say, ‘I’m not going to run cross country because I can play soccer in Fall II,’ but Fall II doesn’t happen … and then the student ends up with no experience.”
In terms of the scheduling of the four sports season, the MIAA board agreed with the task force’s recommendation to push fall sports practice to Sept. 18, four days later than the date the board previously targeted.
Last month’s decision to allow fall sports practices to start no earlier than Sept. 14 was made before the commonwealth reached an agreement with teachers unions to push the start of classes to no later than Sept. 16.
At the time, the COVID-19 Task Force recommended that fall sports should not begin before classes (as they do in a normal year) but after classes because, “there was a concern about getting everyone together and setting new norms about health and safety standards before breaking into smaller groups.”
That logic continued to hold.
“I think this makes a lot of sense,” MIAA President Jeff Granatino of Marshfield said of the recommendation to push the start date to Sept. 18. “Obviously schools are focused on opening. Having sports start before that might be counterproductive. Changing to the 18th definitely makes sense.”
A board member noted that the four seasons on the MIAA’s calendar this year are not of equal length, and that was a conscious decision by the COVID-19 Task Force. Fall I, Fall 2 and Spring are nine-week seasons. Winter is a 12-week season, taking into account the possibility of weather canceling games and lost playing opportunities due to the holiday break.
As for the out-of-season coaching proposal, the COVID-19 Task Force said that the idea is to allow coaches to work with students -- while obeying EEA safety guidelines -- in the fall even if their sport (football, for example) will not have competitions until later in the academic year.
Task Force Co-Chair and MIAA Board member Thomas Holdgate of Duxbury High School said he did not want to limit the one-year exemption from the association’s out-of-season coaching rule to certain sports. Other members of the board appeared to agree there would be an equity issue of narrowing the exception to certain sports.
On the other hand, some board members expressed concerns about opening a Pandora’s box by allowing coaches to pressure student-athletes to participate in out-of-season practices for one sport instead of participating in a different sport “in season.”
Board members offered two amendments to the task force’s recommendation: that such out-of-season coaching be allowed “as approved” by the building’s principal and that the out-of-season coaching be limited only to traditional fall sports moved to the Fall 2 season.
The former amendment, giving principals a say in how out-of-season coaching takes place, was approved by a vote of 13-7. The latter, restricting the exception to specific fall sports, was defeated, 13-7.
The full resolution, with the provision on principals’ control, passed, 13-7.
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