The Florida High School Athletic Association’s Board of Directors is finally set to vote — this time for real — on the association’s plan for playing fall sports this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Board of Directors is slated to meet in person at 10 a.m. on Friday in Gainesville to finalize a plan for all fall sports, including football. There are three options currently on the table, with potential regular-season start dates ranging from early September to November.
As it currently stands, the FHSAA will allow schools to begin practicing for fall sports on Aug. 24 and let the regular seasons begin two weeks later in September. One of the options — “Option 1” — mostly keeps this plan intact, while actually moving up the start of the regular season a few days. The other two — “Option 3A” and “Option 3B” — call for the FHSAA to halt athletics for at least two more months with an October start date in the 3B plan and a November start in the 3A plan.
Executive director George Tomyn recommended practices be allowed to begin Aug. 24, but any plan requires majority support from the 15-person board. The Board includes three representatives from South Florida: Hialeah Gardens principal Carlos Ochoa, Riviera Prep co-athletic director Mark Schusterman and former Miami Booker T. Washington associate head coach Ben Hanks, who joined the Board as a citizen at-large Wednesday after guiding the Tornadoes to a state championship last year as their de facto coach last year.
Option 1 would mostly keep the fall sports calendar intact. The first football games, for example, would begin Sept. 4 and the regular season would conclude on time after a shortened nine-week season. The postseason would go on as scheduled with football state champions being crowned in December. Option 1 also includes an Oct. 12 “commitment date” for football teams to decide whether they will participate in the state series postseason and the FHSAA would waive minimum games requirement.
Option 1 closely mirrors a proposal which was supported by the FHSAA’s coaches advisory committee.
The FHSAA only landed on its currently established Aug. 24 after facing a mountain of backlash following a controversial decision last month. In July, the board met and voted to make not changes to the fall sports calendar, meaning practices would’ve begun in July and the regular season would’ve begun Aug. 20, even as more than a dozen school districts across the state said they wouldn’t allow practices to begin on time because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Board also voted against all recommendations made by the FHSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.
Although the board ultimately backtracked and held an emergency meeting three days later to vote on the delay until at least Aug. 24, administrators, particularly in the Miami metropolitan area, were frustrated by the process. On Wednesday, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools board even voted unanimously to explore withdrawing from the FHSAA.
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“The catalyst for this last decision was obviously one that involves the health, safety and welfare of our children, which is a non-negotiable for me and non-negotiable for any of us,” said school board vice chair Dr. Steve Gallon, who made the proposal. “That was the most conspicuous decision, the most conspicuous indicator as to why we need to take a hard look at this relationship.”
Option 1 would still be a challenge for Miami-Dade County schools, which aren’t sure when they’ll be allowed to start practicing. Online learning will begin Aug. 31 and MDCPS is targeting October to potentially start in-person classes.
The two variants of Option 3 would likely be more beneficial for Dade County schools, as well as districts in other areas dealing with higher COVID case counts.
Option 3B calls for fall sports practices to start Oct. 12, winter sports to start in January and spring sports to start in March. Option 3A pushes those dates back even further with fall sports practices not starting until Nov. 30, winter sports starting in February and spring sports starting in April.
Both of the Option 3 proposals buy some time for the FHSAA — and its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee — to assess the state’s COVID situation and better understand how the virus spreads once schools reopen.
The full plan for Option 3A is better detailed: For football, a four-week regular season would begin Dec. 11 and every team would qualify for the expanded state playoffs, which would run from Jan. 15-Feb. 20. It would be a radical shift, but also give Florida the most time to get the coronavirus under control and potentially give schools adequate time to reopen for in-person learning.
While Tomyn recommended starting the fall sports season Aug. 24, the FHSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) recommended further delays to the calendar in a report which will be used as supplemental material at the meeting Friday.
“SMAC strongly recommends the FHSAA Board of Directors heed the following safety standards to mitigate the risk of CQVID-19 spread amongst our student-athletes, coaches, officials, and community at large,” the report said.
Among the safety standards, SMAC recommended sports not begin until the seven-day average for percent positivity is under 5 percent for at least 14 days. The Board will also discuss the possibility of mandating a COVID-19 “Consent and Release from Liability” waiver.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken Tomyn’s side in the debate and said Wednesday he believes high school sports should begin this month.
“I think they need to start in August,” DeSantis said at a roundtable discussion in Tallahassee, according to 247Sports.com. “I think most of them are ready to go.”