The novel coronavirus pandemic has postponed all Virginia high school sports until after Christmas, as the state athletic association voted Monday to schedule three condensed seasons starting Dec. 28.
Winter sports competitions will begin Dec. 28, and the postseason will end Feb. 20, followed by fall sports from Feb. 15 until May 1, and spring sports from April 12 until June 26.
This was one of three options the Virginia High School League discussed after its last meeting July 15. The other two options were to cancel all fall sports except golf and cross country or to swap the fall and spring sports seasons.
The motion to play three shortened seasons starting in December passed by a vote of 34-1.
“This is the best option for everyone across the board, so I expected it,” Lake Braddock quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. said. “I would’ve preferred a full season, but this plan was built to give everyone a season. We knew whatever they gave us we’d have to take and that it would be a lot better than what we have now.”
The condensed model preserves the opportunity to play all sports during the 2020-21 academic year, but each season will be heavily modified. Football, for instance, was scheduled to start practice Thursday and play 16 weeks of games from late August until the state championships Dec. 12. The shortened schedule allows for only nine weeks of games. Basketball typically plays 12 weeks of games between Thanksgiving and mid-March; this season will be eight weeks long.
“People are going to have to understand that normal does not exist at the level currently in our system,” VHSL executive director Billy Haun said during Monday’s meeting. “There’s going to be a lot of changes about what that would look like.”
The schedule from December to June is contingent on Virginia remaining in Phase 3 of its reopening. In Phase 3, high-risk sports such as football, basketball and lacrosse are not allowed. If the state advances in reopening, the season could start sooner; if the coronavirus crisis intensifies, the season could be delayed or canceled.
“I thought model three legitimately was the only one that was equitable for all sports,” Chantilly girls’ soccer coach Melissa Bibbee said. “It’s the only one that’s giving us a fighting chance.”
While the fall season does include the low-risk sports of golf and cross-country, those sports are also delayed until spring. The VHSL voted not to exempt those sports from the delay out of equity concerns.
Even as the schedule is in place, plenty of questions remain unanswered. The board will meet Aug. 24 to discuss what playoff format, if any, to use. If seasons are canceled, there will be questions about athletes reclassifying. Eventually, the time will come for questions about spectators. And the state defers to the school districts on questions about covid-19 protocols, testing and procedures for when athletes test positive.
“Obviously they will have to work out some logistics,” Patriot boys’ basketball coach Sherman Rivers said. “But just the simple fact that we’re going to have a season made it an extremely happy moment for me and I’m sure for our players.”
There will also be issues posed by the overlap between sports. Whereas local private leagues such as the Interstate Athletic Conference and the Independent School League have put forth a model where one season ends before the other begins, the VHSL plan could have up to three weeks of overlap between seasons. For some multi-sport athletes, this could force tough decisions.
“I definitely see some issues, but these are extreme times,” Bibbee said. “This year, we’re just going to have to go with the flow. Playing dual sports are important for many reasons. But the kids may have to choose.”
Secondary questions are premature for now. The coronavirus has halted competitions since March 12, and everyone is operating on the pandemic’s timetable. As seen in MLB, where a team’s outbreak has jeopardized the season less than a week into it, smooth returns aren’t guaranteed.
But with plans for a potential season in place, excitement is high in northern Virginia.
“The kids have been champing at the bit to get back out there,” Rivers said. “The first question I got this morning when we found out was about when we would start working out. I had to tell them: ‘Guys, relax. Let’s just be happy that we’re going to play some games.’ “