TAYLOR COUNTY—It’s been approximately three months since the suspension (and eventual cancellation) of multiple winter and fall sports, but high school athletes around the state could return to their practice facilities for offseason conditioning as early as Monday.
Last week, the WVSSAC provided guidelines regarding how teams should proceed in their attempts to get back to sport-specific practices and conditioning. According to WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan, the recommendations focus on student-athlete safety and the preparation needed for athletes to get into shape for their upcoming seasons.
“That’s really what we were torn with, Dolan stated. “You know everybody is chomping at the bit after being out for three months and we wanted to make sure that it was a controlled, safe environment on their way back in. Part of that is the social, emotional, and physical well-being of the student-athletes and the coaches to get back and be part of a team as they try to restart a new normal life.”
The three-week summer “live” period is being reworked throughout the state on a county-by-county basis and that period will happen during Phase 3 of the three-step plan, although teams cannot compete against other schools in 7-on-7 scrimmages or basketball tournaments during this phase.
“Ultimately, we are trying to keep our kids as safe as possible so that we don’t have any outbreaks in June or July that interfere with August and September when we are starting to play,” explained Dolan.
Dolan said that due to the ever-changing landscape of the current pandemic, there will almost have to be revisions to the original plans.
“We have said this is a living document and as guidance changes, our guidance may change. At the end of every week, we’ll probably have to reevaluate and see if anything changes on our guidance for future.”
Various counties will be participating in the phases during different dates and times. More information will be posted about those dates and times as information becomes available.
The seven scheduled weeks of conditioning and practices should provide a further gauge of how the state will continue to monitor the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think it is going to help our schools,” Dolan added. “First of all, we are going to know if we are going to have any outbreaks or whether or not we are still doing a good job of trying to contain it. It will also help schools come the first day of school, and the first day of real practice when you have a number of kids coming. The four weeks of conditioning and the three weeks of the summer period, I certainly think those are trial runs for regular practice.”
In what is always a challenge for prep sports due to the landscape of the state and teams’ inability/unwillingness to travel, is that 47 of West Virginia’s 113 high school football teams have a game scheduled this upcoming season against an out-of-state opponent. Madonna and Wheeling Central have eight out-of-state games scheduled. Magnolia has seven, and half of Jefferson and Paden City’s schedule are against out-of-state opponents. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see a West Virginia school have one or more of those games canceled depending on conditions in the opponent school’s state.
In addition, according to SSAC policy, a team must play at least six opponents in their class (or higher) and a minimum of eight total games to become eligible for the WV high school football playoffs. A waiver can be granted for a team whose contractual opponent recently changed classifications. Dolan says those requirements could be adjusted if necessary.
“Looking at the number of schools you have to play in your class as well as the number of games you have to have, both of those will be looked at if we anticipate any issues.”
The first football games of the 2020 season are scheduled to be played during the week of August 24th. Dolan said although it is too early to tell how the spectator situation will unfold with current social distancing guidelines, schools are preparing for different ways to limit the exposure to each other as they enter and exit games.
“I think we are too far away from saying we will have a hundred percent capacity, eighty percent capacity, or whatever,” Dolan concluded. “But I do think people can start looking at how we get people in and out of games without having to stand in line. Do we push online ticketing so that you know you have a ticket? You don’t come up to the gate and find out that you don’t, or it is sold out because it could be a smaller venue?”
That and many other concerns will need to be addressed by county school systems in the upcoming weeks.