The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) agreed during Tuesday's board meeting to start most fall sports on time while volleyball and football have been moved to the spring.
- Football: moved to spring
- Volleyball: moved to spring
- Tennis: starts on time
- Cross-country: starts on time
- Girls swimming/diving: starts on time
- Boys/girls soccer: starts on time
The vote, conducted by an 18-member board of directors, first voted down a motion to have football begin as usual on August 17. A secondary motion to move the football season to the spring was approved, making Minnesota one of fewer than 10 states thus far to move the high-contact sport to the spring amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The spring football season will not include scrimmages, the season will be shortened with fewer games and the postseason plan is to be determined, according to MSHSL Media Director John Millea.
Tennis, cross-country, girls swimming and diving and boys/girls soccer will start on time. However, cross-country events will be limited to three teams while the limit for tennis and swimming/diving is two teams. Tennis, cross-country and girls swimming/diving will be kept to 1-2 events per week, per Millea.
Volleyball has also been moved to the spring following motions to move it to winter/early spring and to start on time failed, respectively.
Per Millea, the board voted in favor of allowing football and volleyball players the ability to practice this fall.
Soccer, for girls and boys, will begin on time on Aug. 17. However, the season will be shortened by 20% while games are cut by 30% (1-2 games per week). Scrimmages are not allowed and postseason competition to to be determined.
Why is volleyball delayed while soccer, which has more physical contact, isn't? "Outdoor vs. indoor is part of it," explained Millea. COVID-19 is known to spread more easily indoors compared to outdoors.
The decisions come amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen three-dozen states delay the return of fall sports, including Minnesota neighbors Wisconsin and Iowa.
According to the National Federation of of State High School Associations, Iowa will play a seven-week regular season football schedule that starts Aug. 28 and ends Oct. 9. Wisconsin will delay the start of football, soccer and volleyball until Sept. 7.
Meanwhile, seven states (California, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia and Washington) and Washington, D.C., will not play football this fall, instead remaining hopeful that football – considered a high-risk sport in COVID-19 times – can be played beginning in December or January.
South Dakota and North Dakota plan to start on time.
The decision comes as COVID-19 levels are increasing in Minnesota. According to NPR, the average number of new cases per day has risen from 600/day three weeks ago, 619/day two weeks ago, 671/day last week and 680/day this week.
The MSHSL formed a "return to participation" task force in July, with the committee instructed to consider six critical factors when planning for athletics.
- Prioritize the health and safety for all to the greatest extent possible.
- Align return-to-participation options with the requirements and recommendations of state organizations and agencies focused on safety and return-to-learn models.
- Provide an opportunity for education-based participation in each sport and activity.
- Demonstrate equity and fairness in preparation of programming options.
- Acknowledge financial implications.
- Apply guidelines consistently.
Last week, Gov. Tim Walz and the Department of Education provided guidance to school districts planning to for the 2020-21 school year, essentially giving districts the power to choose which learning model – distance learning, in-person instruction, or hybrid – makes the most sense based on COVID-19 levels in the counties in which the schools are located.
According to KSTP's Eric Chaloux, there are currently three counties that exceed the infection threshold – 50+ cases of per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period – linked to the "distance learning only" guidance. If infection rates deem distance learning to be a district's model of choice, sports cannot be played.
Minneapolis Public Schools and St. Paul Public Schools have both announced intentions to begin the academic year with distance learning even though the infection rates don't meet the Department of Education's threshold.