OHSAA reiterates state, local control of fall decisions; practices still set to start Aug. 1

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

The Ohio High School Athletic Association is proceeding with plans to begin fall sports practices Aug. 1, interim executive director Bob Goldring said during a teleconference with statewide media July 14.

However, he left wiggle room for plans to change and emphasized state and local control of mandates as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues.

“We really feel it is the school's decision as to whether they will have sports,” Goldring said. “We don’t think it’s the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s place to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to sports. Our main focus is on our tournaments and we control those. We really have to take direction from the governor’s office, his team and his medical staff.

“If there are going to be delays in the season, if there will be postponements, if there are (rules) put in place where there will be only non-contact sports during the fall, then we have to pivot and look at our different options for moving forward.”

Following the organization’s approach of leaving enforcement to local authorities, Goldring said it would be “a school-by-school decision” on how positive COVID-19 tests would be handled and how to approach quarantines for teams or individual players. He also did not set guidelines when it comes to attendance at games or social distancing.

“It would be a nightmare for us to try to police that,” Goldring said.

Goldring said the OHSAA hopes to release guidelines on how to conduct fall sports to its member schools soon, a project on which it is collaborating with state authorities.

During Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus-related press conference July 16, he was asked about the status of those protocols.

"It's hard to come up with one set of plans that address the unique circumstances that everybody operates under," Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said. "That's the complexity of this. You want to try and treat people the same, but you also understand there are unique sets of circumstances.

"We're trying to balance that we know sports are an integral part of Ohioans' lives, that kids really value them as part of their character and personal and physical development. ... We understand that there's a need to get this information out and we're working to come to that conclusion, hopefully in the very near future."

In addition to internal dialogue, ideas from other states are being taken into consideration. One idea, that some states might push fall sports into the spring if there is an in-season interruption, has not been ruled out but is considered unlikely here because of weather and the number of multisport athletes.

Goldring said any decision on flipping fall and spring sports has not been made by the board of directors because there has been no formal proposal, but “we can’t be naive that there aren’t other options out there if our plans are derailed.” He said a transition from travel to high school competition for sports such as baseball and softball could be “seamless.”

That announcement came two days after a ThisWeekSPORTS.com report sharing a proposal from a group of central Ohio football coaches that entailed switching several fall and spring sports, including football. That proposal was not formally presented to the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association or the OHSAA.

Goldring said an OHSAA mandate that football teams would have to play eight games to qualify for the playoffs likely will be relaxed, echoing a move made by West Virginia last week.

While approaching the start of fall as if the normal timeline will be followed, Goldring admitted having some nerves on a personal level because of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. The state reported 1,142 new cases July 14 and 67,995 confirmed or probable cases statewide.

“Being open and honest, I'm nervous about what's going on,” Goldring said. “But on the other hand, our medical experts are saying the risk is not as high for our younger population. We have to trust that. …

“It is a fluid situation. We’re planning to go full-bore ahead with practices Aug. 1 with the notion that seasons would follow in their normal pattern. We as an association have no plans to start practices with the idea that we could be delaying our season.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave