MIAA Sets Winter Sports Start Date at Dec. 14, Moves Wrestling to Spring
FRANKLIN, Mass. -- The board of directors of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Friday voted to start the winter sports season no earlier than Dec. 14 and to move wrestling to the spring in hopes that the sport will have a path to competitions later in 2021.
Wrestling, a high risk activity for COVID-19 transmission, is only cleared for practices under the current guidelines from the commonwealth’s Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs.
The state association’s wrestling committee petitioned the board to allow the traditional winter sport to be moved to the spring season, which begins on April 26, in hopes that by that time conditions will allow wrestling meets to be held - even if they have to be held outside.
“I asked members of the EEA what the rationale was for allowing a path for football to Level 3 [competitions],” MIAA wrestling liaison Phil Napolitano told the board. “I was told the difference is football is outside.”
This summer, the MIAA moved football from the fall to its newly created “Fall 2” season (Feb. 22 to April 25) in hopes that conditions would allow competition at that time.
Sure enough, the most recent EOEEA guidelines would allow football competitions, in spite of its categorization as “higher risk.”
“For the avoidance of doubt, football and rugby must only engage in the permissible activities outdoors,” the state guidelines read. “Sports and activities included in the Higher Risk category that are performed indoors and require sustained high contact (wrestling, competitive cheer, pairs figure skating) can participate in Level 1 and modified Level 2 cohort play (as described below).”
Napolitano said the wrestling committee was concerned about the prospect of forcing wrestlers to choose between sports and indicated that is part of the reason why it landed on the spring season as the preferred time frame. Only 25 percent of the wrestlers in a survey of 1,100 conducted this year indicated that they play a spring sport; the other possible season for a move -- Fall 2 -- includes football, which a higher percentage of wrestlers play, Napolitano said.
“The rational is based on the potential to move [wrestling] outdoors if we were given a path,” Napolitano said. “Hopefully, by April 26, the health metrics have improved, and we don’t need to go there.”
Napolitano said that while he does not know of any states that hold wrestling competitions outside, it is not totally unheard of. Some colleges have held outdoor wrestling events in efforts to showcase the sport, he said. In 2015, the University of Iowa’s wrestling team hosted Oklahoma in front of a crowd of 42,000 at Kinnick Stadium, according to published reports.
Whatever happens in the spring, high schools will have the option to offer wrestling practice programs this winter, much as some in the commonwealth offered practice-only soccer or football programs this past fall. The MIAA relaxed its “out of season” practice rules this summer in an effort to provide student-athletes opportunities to participate in their sports even when competitions were not a possibility.
As for the traditional winter sports that are staying in the winter window, practices cannot begin in the commonwealth before Dec. 14.
The MIAA board Friday was presented with a recommendation from its COVID-19 task force that set the opening date at Dec. 10, but that recommendation came on a vote of just 10-9 at the task force level. And it was clear in the conference call among board members that a later start date was preferable.
Several members of the board advocated for pushing the date to Dec. 14 at the earliest to allow schools two weeks after students and staff return from the Thanksgiving break, recognizing that some may need to self-quarantine after traveling out of state for the holiday.
“Are there really schoosl that are going to begin on [Nov. 30]?” asked Joseph Case High School Principal Brian McCann, referring to a date suggested by another board member. “Or do I just see things from the lens of Southeastern Mass, where I looked at the [COVID-19] map last night and it was all red?
“I can’t believe anyone is starting on the 30th based on what we know now. Science tells us that two weeks after Thanksgiving is going to be rough days. Why would we make it any rougher?”
The board ultimately voted, 20-1, to approve the Dec. 14 start date for sports like basketball, swimming, Nordic skiing and Alpine skiing. In Berkshire County, the three high schools hosting cooperative high school hockey programs already have announced they will not be offering the sport this winter.
Individual leagues will have the option to move their start date later into December or even January, if they want.
MIAA Board President Jeff Granatino, the superintendent of the Marshfield Public Schools, thanked the school administrators, athletic directors, coaches and medical professionals who helped develop the modifications to high school sports that the MIAA approved on Friday.
The full modifications, made to comply with the EOEEA guidelines and recommended by the COVID-19 Task Force in consultation with the MIAA’s sport committees and sports medicine committee, will be explained to schools over the coming weeks in a series of town hall meetings.
“It goes without saying that the coronavirus has forced school districts to think about how they deliver education,” Granatino said at the outset of Friday’s special board meeting. “It has not been easy, and I’m sure there are many who have other thoughts about how winter sports should roll out.
“All of these decisions are made with the best interest of the student-athletes in mind -- their physical well-being as well as their emotional well-being.”