High school football in Washington will have to wait until spring.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced radical changes to its 2020-21 sports calendar on Tuesday due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some low-risk sports such as cross country, tennis and golf will tentatively take place as scheduled in the fall, with the first practices beginning Sept 7.
But football and other higher-risk sports will occur later in a new four-season calendar unveiled by the WIAA on Tuesday.
Football, girls soccer and volleyball, typically played in fall, are now scheduled for the spring in the WIAA’s new Season 3. A seven-week regular season will start March 8, followed by two postseason weeks for football and one week for volleyball and soccer.
Winter sports such as basketball, wrestling and gymnastics are still scheduled for winter as part of Season 2. A seven-week regular season will begin Jan. 11 followed by one postseason week.
Traditional spring sports such as baseball, softball, and track and field will start later than usual in Season 4. A seven-week regular season will begin May 3 with postseason events happening the final weekend in June.
But even the calendar unveiled Tuesday is tentative. The WIAA said that participation in any fall sports will depend on the counties’ progression through reopening phases laid out by Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan.
WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman said State Department of Health guidelines require counties to be in Phase 3 of the Safe Start plan for low-risk sports to occur.
Currently 22 of the state’s 39 counties, including Clark County, are in Phase 2 or lower. Any changes in phases are frozen until July 28 due to rising coronavirus cases statewide.
“Please understand that it’s an incredibly fluid situation,” Hoffman said. “It could change tomorrow. When you look at dates, those are definitely written in pencil.”
The WIAA Executive Board will create benchmarks on July 28 to be met in order for WIAA Season 1 to take place. If the benchmarks are not met, the board will plan to move the remainder of fall sports to WIAA Season 3.
Executive Board president Greg Whitmore said those benchmarks could include things like the number of counties in the state that are in Phase 3 of reopening and the number of schools choosing to field teams in the fall sports.
WIAA Season 1 includes cross country, slowpitch softball, along with boys golf and tennis. The viability of girls swimming and diving as a Season 1 sports is dependent on more information from the State Department of Health, the WIAA said in a release Tuesday.
Hoffman said that along with keeping people safe, finding a way for students to play sports in 2020-21 was a top priority. Hoffman cited a Wisconsin study that gauged the effects on students who couldn’t play in the canceled 2020 spring season.
“First and foremost, we want to provide opportunities for our students,” Hoffman said. “We have been working diligently to try to find a way.”
Hoffman left open the possibility that sports could take place in school districts where in-person learning isn’t happening. He said districts and superintendents would have input on that decision.
Hoffman said it’s unclear what postseason competition will look like. Contests might be limited to schools in the same region of the state to minimize travel.
With the possibility of some sports overlapping, athletes who play multiple sports will be accommodated. That includes having some preseason practice requirements be met by playing a sport in the prior season.
“I hope we have some four-sport athletes,” Hoffman said.