After months of wondering what the fate of high school sports in Virginia would be, the Virginia High School League met and voted Monday to adopt Model 3 as the reopening plan for the 2020-2021 school year.
Model 3 pushes back the start of sports until December, and each sport will play a condensed season.
The 34-1 vote capped off a roller coaster ride that over the last few months left many with a lot of uncertainty of if and when the sports season would resume due to ongoing concerns of COVID-19.
“This was an extremely difficult decision,” VHSL executive director Dr. Billy Haun said in a news conference held shortly after the executive committee voted to implement Model 3.
“We all understand the physical and mental health benefits of getting our students back to a level of participation. The Condensed Interscholastic Plan leaves open the opportunity to play all sports in three seasons if Virginia moves beyond Phase Three and/or Phase Three guidelines are revised and high risk activities are allowed,” Haun added. “This plan also allows schools the opportunity to open the year and get school started and deal with issues such as schedules, academic plans, transportation and dealing with possible outbreaks of COVID in the school.”
Model 3, gives all sports the opportunity to play a season albeit a condensed one. Season one begins with winter sports, and the season runs Dec. 14-Feb. 20. The first contest date is Dec. 28. Sports included in season one are basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, swim/dive and wrestling.
Season two is for fall sports and begins on Feb. 15 and ends on May 1. The first contest date is scheduled for March 1. Cheer, cross-country, field hockey, football, golf and volleyball are included in season two.
Season three is scheduled from April 12-June 26 with a first contest date of April 26. Baseball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis and track and field are in season three.
The executive committee met for close to an hour on Monday discussing the options going forward. There was some discussion about letting cross-country and golf play in the fall because of the lack of contact in those two sports. The decision was ultimately made to move those sports, along with the other fall sports, to the spring out of an abundance of caution. The committee did not want to have rising numbers or outbreaks cancel those seasons, and moving them along with the others to the spring helps eliminate that possibility for the time being.
During Haun’s news conference after the meeting the question was posed about what the VHSL would do if certain parts of the state were to move backwards in the phases due to rising numbers. Haun said if that case numbers rise they would go back to the executive committee to make a further decision.
Another topic of discussion in the meeting and after was postseason playoffs. There were some members that wanted to go forward with as close to a regular postseason as possible, and others mentioned possible travel issues and were wanting more of a regional or sectional postseason to eliminate long travel.
It was decided that the executive committee would meet again on Aug. 24 to make a decision on the postseason for the 2020-2021 year.
Out of season practice and conditioning will continue to be allowed at this time as long as schools have submitted their health plans to the Virginia Department of Education.
Haun, when asked about the communication between the VHSL and the governors office, said they have been in constant contact with each other throughout the process. They continue to have communication with them and the Department of Education, coordinating together the best path moving forward for everyone, he added.
Another issue that Haun mentioned was the attendance of sporting events when they are to resume. Right now the VHSL is limited to 250 people at all events and that includes players, coaches and staff. Virginia would need to move out of Phase Three before that number would change. This would also affect state events, which in turn would have a financial impact on the VHSL. Haun says that 35-40% of their revenue comes from state events each year.
As the cases in Virginia continue to rise for a second time since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Haun and the VHSL executive committee are prepared to meet again if new guidelines from the governor forces them to change course.
But for the time being the VHSL has a path forward and student athletes, coaches, athletic directors and schools now know what to expect as the 2020-2021 school year draws near.