The Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled the spring sports season April 20, an unprecedented step brought on by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
In the second installment of an interview series, Jerry Snodgrass, the executive director of the OHSAA, spoke with ThisWeek on June 8, answering questions about where things stand as teams have resumed workouts and the fall sports season approaches.
Given that it’s an evolving situation, ThisWeek plans on checking in with Snodgrass monthly until normalcy is restored.
If there is a “phased” start to school in which students go to the classroom two or three days per week with some distance learning but facilities remain open, high school sports teams would still be able to participate, correct? If so, how will that be handled?
“Our intent would certainly be to do that. Given those being the known factors, there would be no reason why we could not. The offshoot of that is I’m more concerned about junior high sports, because how do the kids get to practice, how do the kids get to games? As far as high school sports, there would be no reason why we couldn’t do that. We would provide help and guidance more than we would regulations.”
How were the “skill training” guidelines listed on the coronavirus website as a guide for schools determined?
“Those were determined entirely by (Gov. Mike DeWine’s) office. We’ve become more actively involved because we’ve done this for 115 years and we are the oversight regulatory agency, organization for hundreds of schools and thousands and thousands of athletes and coaches.”
Is anyone monitoring teams to make sure the guidelines are being followed? What are the penalties for not following the guidelines?
“The easy answer is no. They’re not our rules. Everything occurring in the schools right now is non-OHSAA, non-school sports, so we have no oversight and we have no penalties or compliance with it. It’s entirely up to the governor and the (Ohio) Department of Health. Our organization does not oversee or deal with pandemics.”
Is there a date in July that contact drilling needs to be allowed so that fall sports, including “high-risk” sports like football, can begin on time?
“As of June 8, the answer to that is no. I say it that way because we have to be prepared for things changing so quickly. That could change and it could not.”
The OHSAA website lists a three-phase plan for the reopening of prep sports. Currently, we are in “Phase One,” which is supposed to last at least two weeks. Will there be an announcement that it is OK to move to “Phase Two” and then to “Phase Three,” or is that up to each school? Has the state given specific stipulations for what needs to happen to move on to the next phase or is that determined by the OHSAA?
“That is guidance and simply a recommendation for schools who wanted to ask how do we do this, how do we do what the governor has just opened up a couple of weeks ago with skill training? What’s a plan? Here’s a suggestion, here’s guidance. We came up with guidance. The NCAA has guidance. The National Federation (of State High School Associations), which we took our stuff from, has guidance. Where they’re at and how long they stay in it or whether they use that at all is entirely up to them. There will be no announcement when they are moving to the next phase. It was a guidance document to help them if they wanted advice on how to do things and to comply with the overall mandatory restriction of the governor’s six-foot social distancing. Our guidance was to help with that. That’s the major stipulation with everything. There’s no way that they can do anything that the governor does not allow.”
If teams are allowed to move to contact drilling, will players have to wear masks? Will the coaches be wearing masks during this time?
“That will be a decision, again, based on the governor’s office.”
Will players, coaches, fans and media have to wear masks during fall events, or is that still to be determined over the next few weeks based on government stipulations?
“It will all be based on the governor’s mandate restrictions or recommended restrictions. There are mandated restrictions and one of those is the six-foot spacing and there are recommended restrictions, so that will be determined by whatever is permitted. Because of the restrictions, I believe strongly it’s getting us closer and helping us get to a normal return of sports in the fall.”
What are some things you’d like to stress to coaches to help them get their athletes on track during this period when contact between athletes is limited?
“No. 1 is what we’re doing now. We all want (to be) back, but what we’re doing now is critical to get us back. No. 2 is we preach to kids all the time about working hard and following rules when no one is watching. That should not change for our coaches, either. I really believe strongly in that. If you really want to identify a coach right now, see what he or she is doing when no one is watching. The third thing is stressing that every rule of this revolves around (medical experts having) identified that respiratory droplets are the No. 1 thing that causes the spread of this. Follow those restrictions to prevent it.”
Does the possibility of not having fall sports remain? What would cause that? Would each sport be judged separately?
“One thing that I have certainly come to realize since the start, you can’t rule out anything. A number of things could cause us to cancel fall sports. The mass gatherings right now that are taking place without social distancing and without face protection. Also, I’ve seen many events where they’re not following those restrictions. That scares me for the possibility of a greater outbreak. I saw the other day, 19 states are seeing a rise in cases. I identify with the governor in his communications online of responsible restarts. We have to be responsible.
“Our board of directors would probably be the final say, but I am not a believer that we need to cancel all sports if some can’t be played. Look at the difference between non-contact or low-contact (sports) like golf, tennis, swimming, baseball and softball. Those have been identified by the governor as being low- and no-contact (sports). If those can go and contact sports can’t go, I’m not a believer that we need to cancel every opportunity just because some can’t go. We can work with options, so I’m not a big believer, but our board would probably be the ultimate decision-maker.”
What prompted the expansion of the playoffs in football starting with the 2021 season? Why was now the time to expand?
“I give the football coaches a lot of credit for this, the (Ohio High School) Football Coaches Association. I opened the door that they were allowed to make presentations to our board of directors, and they made very thorough presentations. It is strongly centered so that it opens up more opportunities for more teams, keeping in mind that football is the only sport in which all teams in Ohio are not permitted into the postseason. The coaches made a wonderful presentation and our board, which is responsible for looking at the wholesale aspects of this, approved it.
“I’m very happy with it. There are some quirks in it that I think need to be solved, but I’m a believer that problems are meant to be solved and they’re not meant to stay as problems. I identify the problems with it. It impedes on the winter sports a little bit more. We have smart people and we can work through those problems.”
What have you learned from this pandemic experience that you can build on in the future? How has it made the OHSAA stronger or better? What measures are you taking to be better prepared in the event some such calamity would happen in the future?
“I’ve learned how important patience is. I’ve learned how important listening is. Not that I never knew these things, but it’s been highlighted. Decision-making, but decision-making based upon all of the facts that are available, and that’s been a challenge because it’s so rapidly occurring. This has been an incredible challenge. Our staff has done phenomenal things through this. It’s amazing. We have been working remotely and we’re all doing it in the best interests of the kids, coaches and schools that we serve. Even though people don’t like some of the decisions, they’re still going forward in trying to make those decisions the best way. A team is built out of challenges and a crisis, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.
“(Like) a lot of organizations, it’s made us identify a lot of things that we could do differently. As an example, some of our trophies have dates on them that are stamped dates. What if you don’t have the tournament? Trophies become worthless. Let’s think differently in the future. This may never happen again, but maybe we ought to find a different way to put those dates on a trophy. Our staff has done beautiful things from this that results in cost savings as well.”
There are reports that this pandemic experience has caused financial problems for the OHSAA. Are those accurate? What is the long-range situation for your organization if this doesn’t improve?
“Yes, without question. Most every business is affected by it. Every state (athletics) organization is affected because I believe all 50 canceled their spring sports. Iowa is a little different because they have baseball and maybe softball towards the summer and I think they’re going forward with playing that. That’s normal for them.
“It’s a financial impact on us. It could get really bad, but it’s going to challenge us to reinvent ourselves and really see how we’re doing our business and what is the new normal going to be. There’s organizations outside of Ohio that see the resurgence of intramurals, especially in younger grades. If this continues, we’re going to have to really challenge ourselves to see how we can provide opportunities for kids in a different way.”