The Virginia High School League's Executive Committee voted 34-1 Monday to delay the start of the 2020-21 high school sports season by implementing a compressed high school sports scheduling plan that would run as of now from Dec. 28-June 26.
The schedule would begin with the winter sports season, starting in late December, followed by the traditional fall sports season and ending with the spring sports season. The dates for each season are based on current Phase 3 information and guidance. Those dates could change if the guidance changes.
“The dates that you see right now might not be the dates that are etched in stone,” said VHSL executive director Billy Haun. “There could be some adjustments as we move forward.“If we were to move beyond Phase III or move backwards from Phase III, the Virginia High School League would have to look at a different plan and how the difference in the data affects us.”
Monday's vote means that high school football and other fall sports would be played March 1 to May 1 with practices beginning Feb. 15.
The revamped schedule was the third model Haun presented to the executive committee July 15 for the upcoming school year and the one that was expected to draw the most support.
Under the compressed schedule format, each sport would play 60 percent of its typically allotted regular-season games. Depending on the postseason format, more regular season games can be added if the postseason is reduced.
The VHSL will meet Aug. 24 to present a postseason format to the executive committee. The executive committee will plans to vote on a final proposal by Aug. 31. Under the model approved Monday, football state playoffs would finish May 1, a week later than the other fall sports’ seasons.
Once the state playoff schedule is set, then schools can begin scheduling backwards the makeup of regionals and regular-season matchups.
Here is how the adopted interscholastic schedule looks:
Season 1 (Winter sports) would run Dec. 14-Feb. 20. The first contest would be Dec. 28.
Season 2 (Fall sports) would run Feb. 15-May 1 with the first contest starting March 1.
Season 3 (Spring sports) would run April 12-June 26 with the first contest starting April 26.
Two other models were considered but not approved.
Under Model 1, sports would have been left in their current seasons, but only golf and cross country would have been allowed to start in the fall because they fall into the lower to moderate contact category. As high-risk sports, field hockey, football, volleyball and cheerleading would not have been played at all during the school year.
Under Model 2, the fall and spring seasons would have switched, which means the following low and moderate sports would be allowed to compete in the fall: track and field, tennis, baseball and softball. Fall sports would have been scheduled for the spring. The high risk-sports, boys and girls lacrosse and soccer, would not have been played at all in the school year.
None of the three models included football being played in the fall.
With the condensed schedule in place under the current guidelines, the VHSL and its member schools will next deal with schedules, the postseason and health protocols.
The overlap of schedules for each season could impact multi-sport athletes, forcing them to choose one sport over another.
Another question is what the regular-season schedule will look like as far as number of district games allowed and whether there is room for non-district games, including ones with rivals or ones that are part of an invitational tournament.
Current social distancing guidelines will impact transportation as well as attendance at sporting events.
One executive committee member asked about the possibility of allowing golf and cross country to compete in the fall since they are considered a “low-risk sport” or switched to the spring because of more suitable weather conditions.
But others expressed concerns about such a move in part because of the risk involved if the state goes back to Phase II in the fall and no sports are permitted to play. Equity concerns also factored into keeping fall sports in the same season.
The VHSL allowed schools to hold out-of-season workouts starting June 15. And it also suspended the July-August 2020 dead period so that out-of-season practices can continue.
But before out-of-season practices can take place, schools must submit health plans to the Virginia Department of Education detailing how they will comply with strategies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in accordance with policies established by the Virginia Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Prince William County, Manassas City and Manassas Park school systems have not been approved yet to start out-of-season workouts.