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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

ANALYSIS: High School Sports in 2020-2021 (EDITED 7/21/2020)

The Virginia High School League (VHSL) Executive Committee met Wednesday and voted 35-0 to meet again on July 27th to vote for one of three "model" proposals on how to move forward with high school sports for public schools for the 2020-21 school year.

While the predominant early media coverage Wednesday focused on football, the announcement today affects far more than the action on the gridiron:

1) There will be no field hockey in Fall 2020.
2) There will be no volleyball in Fall 2020.
3) There will be no competition cheer in Fall 2020.

While football is certainly the most popular high school sport, it is not the only one that COVID-19 will deprive us of this autumn. Those student-athletes, coaches and parents, as well as fans, need to be recognized and discussed as well, and, as we talk about various issues in this in-depth analysis, we will be referring to not just football players, but volleyball and field hockey players and competition cheerleaders.

We also may be seeing some of the sports we lost in the spring come autumn. Read on for more information.

If you are wondering about cross country and golf, they still have a hope for action this fall.

The League announced the three "models" they are considering for competition this year.

MODEL 1: "Leave all sports in current season. Low and moderate contact risk sports that would be allowed to play are golf and cross country. High risk sports that would not be played are field hockey, football, volleyball and cheer. Fall activities that would be allowed is theatre."

MODEL 2: "Switch fall and spring seasons. Low and moderate contact risk sports that would be allowed to play in the fall are track and field, tennis, baseball and softball. High risk sports that would not be played are soccer and boys/girls lacrosse. Spring activities that would be allowed are theatre, forensics/debate, and film festival." (EDITORS NOTE: Soccer was reclassified as a "high risk" sport by the VHSL on July 21st.)

MODEL 3: "Delay all VHSL sports and adopt the Condensed Interscholastic Plan. Leave all sports in the season where they are currently aligned:

--Season 1 (Winter) December 14 to February 20 (first contest date, December 28)
--Season 2 (Fall) February 15 to May 1 (first contest date, March 1)
--Season 3 (Spring) April 12 to June 26 (first contest date, April 26)"

Originally, the committee was to return on August 3rd to vote on which model to follow, but changed the date, moving it up a week in the aforementioned vote during Wednesday's session.

So, what might happen? What does it all mean? Here are the most important factors to consider:

1) What are school systems doing academically?

--With Richmond Public Schools voting 8-1 on Tuesday night to hold school virtually in the entire system for the first semester, it would be hard to see the school board allowing students who aren't allowed to learn on school property to compete there, no matter the sport.
--Other area systems are considering hybrid learning models, such as the one Goochland County announced Tuesday night. Chesterfield County announced a virtual beginning to the academic year, and Henrico is expected to follow suit later this week.

2) What are the trends of COVID-19 infection in Virginia?

--The Commonwealth was one of the few states enjoying a downward trend until earlier this month. Should a rise in cases continue, or if we continue to see cases at a level higher than went the virus seemed to be more "flattened" in late spring, the Virginia Departments of Education and Health, along with the Governor, will take swift action. They'll certainly allow localities to determine their individual plans unless coronavirus takes a turn for the worse.

3) What are the benefits/disadvantages of each "model"?

--Model 1 is certainly the easiest to enact. It's also costing us four fall sports off the bat and leaves no indications for the future of other sports in winter and spring. Certainly, we don't blame the VHSL for that as we are battling an unknown entity in COVID-19. Nonetheless, it is certainly frustrating for everyone, but more so for student-athletes and coaches.
--Model 2 would place schools in a position to essentially try to get most sports in on a "reverse season" schedule, leaving winter sports in place. However, there are some questions, such as are marching bands going to follow football's schedule? If so, do their fall competitions move, opening stadiums for outdoor track meets in the autumn? Additionally, are baseball, softball, soccer, tennis and track programs ready to get started literally in the next few weeks?
--Model 3 seems to be the most optimistic approach with taking a "wait and see" attitude. It also provides for all sports to be played (given a sharp decline in COVID-19 spread), albeit in "condensed" fashion. However, if the long-discussed "second wave" of coronavirus arrives along with the traditional flu season, all bets are off, and all sports are in danger. That can be said of all three models.

As is the case with most things in our lives right now, there is no clear-cut answer. Sacrifices and life changes will continue to be made. In terms of COVID-19, we can't guarantee ourselves a return to something that even resembles "normal" until a vaccine is developed or treatment that can, at the least, prevent fatalities, is found. That could be next week, or years away.


Here are a few final thoughts:

1) Will there be any changes to the process of recruiting student-athletes for colleges, especially the Class of 2021? If a volleyball player, for example, loses their senior season, is there anything the NCAA can do to assist in the process? Of course, they, and all institutions of higher learning involved with athletics, are dealing with their own sets of unique problems.

2) We have not heard, as of this writing, from the VISAA. Would there be some seniors who would try to go to a private school in order to reclassify and get, maybe, one more season come the 2021-22 school year? Will we have a normal sports schedule come August, 2021? We honestly cannot guarantee that right now.

3) Everyone interested in high school sports should pay close attention to the daily reports on Virginia's coronavirus cases (amounts, numbers of tests, positivity rates, etc), and what your jurisdiction's school system is discussing regarding academic options. If you're not learning at school, you certainly won't be playing there.

4) The VHSL governs all of Virginia's public schools, but don't be surprised if we find that, if there is athletic competition and any point in the 2020-21 school year, some localities may participate, and others may not. In fact, we expect that to be the case.

Stay with the RVA Sports Network for updates as they come, instantly on Twitter (@TheRVASportsNet) as well as here and our Facebook page.

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