MHSAA director talks to football coaches

The clock is ticking on high school sports in Michigan.

As we hit mid-July next week, the time has come to find out what we might be looking at when comes to athletics during the 2020-21 school year amid a pandemic that only seems to be intensifying in the United States.

We've learned that planning ahead means nothing the last four months because we're on the virus' time.

Yet, we still have to plan and hope that includes some sense of normalcy so we don't lose our collective minds.

MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl and his staff are doing just that as speak.

Uyl, a former football coach himself, spent a good amount of time in a Zoom meeting members of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association on Tuesday evening.

He gave hints at what some of the plans might be and what the MHSAA is trying to accomplish during a time where planning amounts to throwing a dart at a wall — with a blindfold on — and seeing where it lands.

Uyl's message centered around three goals for the MHSAA. One, to play fall sports in the fall. Two, to have three athletic seasons during the 2020-21 school year. Three, to have alternatives and contingency plans in place if things change.

"We are going to move the heavens and the Earth to find a way to get things done at some time during this (school) year," Uyl said. "You have my word on that."

Still fresh in our memories is what happened in mid-March when the state's winter tournaments had to be shut down before their completion and then the cancellation of all spring sports in early April.

Moving the heavens and the Earth means not having the Class of 2021 go through what the Class of 2020 did when it comes to sports.

"I know all of you that had seniors in your program that were spring athletes or even winter athletes that lost the last two and a half weeks in the winter," Uyl said. "Hallmark does not make a card for those seniors that had their seasons taken away from them so I am committed to having three seasons this year."

That starts with football practice on Aug. 10 and volleyball, boys soccer, boys tennis, girls golf and girls swimming ramping up on Aug. 12.

That's where the focus is right now, Uyl said

"Our plan, without a question, is to have all of our fall sports play this fall," he said. "Let me repeat that...our plan, without a question, is to have all of our fall sports play this fall.

"I know the media has picked up on a question that Governor Whitmer answered last week and I know there are all kinds of conversations going on around the country. I do know that right now most of our staff's time is planning fall sports in the fall."

Uyl and his office are in constant contact with Whitmer's office when it comes to the health situation in Michigan regarding the novel coronavirus.

It's that information — infections, hospitalizations, deaths and how the virus is spreading — that will guide the MHSAA and what it does.

It's also a lot more.

"One of the biggest metrics of us being able to keep fall sports in the fall is what our surrounding states are doing," Uyl said. "I'm in almost daily communication with Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio trying to figure out what their plan is going to be in the fall.

"The other thing that's really going to drive our decision is what's going on in the world of college football. I have a lot of good relationships within the offices of the Big Ten. I met over the weekend with the commissioner of the GLIAC and their current plan is football this fall."

The next huge piece is what do the state's schools look like this fall. Under Whitmer's MI Safe Start plan, schools are allowed to be in-person in phases four and five. There are a large number of added requirements in phase four but athletics is allowed in both phases.

If we slip back to phase three, school goes back to remote learning, meaning sports would be suspended.

Yet, that's only the start of the school year

There's a huge concern that we'll see a true second surge of the virus later this fall when the weather gets cold and we're all back indoors with each other.

If we can get August, September and October in the books, do things change come November, December, etc? Will there be another surge come March and April like there was this year when we learned what this thing was?

If and when vaccine(s)/treatment(s) become viable, how does that change things?

That leads to what Uyl calls being flexible and it's really what everyone has to be moving forward.

"Even though our goal is to have fall sports in the fall, I would not be doing my job if we didn't have some Plan Bs and Plan B alternatives. If things would change very quickly for us, we've got to have two or three alternative plans ready to go and that's what we've been spending most of our time on, too."

That brings up switching the seasons. There's some merit to playing spring sports — all outdoor things — in fall and moving fall sports to the spring.

It's not that clear cut, though.

"The only way that would make sense is we would have some traditional fall sports that could not be played in the fall. There are some concerns with football and to me, as big of a concern is we have two fall sports played indoors and that's volleyball and girls swimming," Uyl said. "We'd have to be able to play every spring sport in the fall and, right now, there are no guarantees for lacrosse and girls soccer.

"That right there would make the switching of seasons not a very viable option for us."

Also a possibility is moving later into the school year if the treatment aspect improves dramatically.

"Let's say we can't start until later in the school ear. We're already starting to put some things on paper where we'd shorten each season a little bit," Uyl said. "A winter season could go November, December, January and into February. The next could be our fall sports which would be a March, April and May season.

"And then, potentially, our spring season could be May, June and into July. Our talks are that we could extend things because there is talk that a vaccine is getting closer and closer every day. Just know that we're going to get creative."

Uyl added that if play is suspended during a season, it will be put "on hold" with the likelihood of resumption at a later date went conditions improve.

"If any sports were stopped, interrupted or delayed, it’s only prudent planning for us to have some options available to us because one of the goals is that we are going to get in three full seasons even if we have to get somewhat creative over the course of the year," Uyl said.

Uyl said the MHSAA's timeline to begin releasing information is July 20, give or take five days. There is a Representative Council meeting next week to update everyone where things stand.

Information will start being sent to schools after that date — and not later than July 25 — to give them time to start preparing for whatever is going to happen.

Cadillac News