Sharply reversing course from three days earlier, the Florida High School Athletic Association board of directors voted Thursday night to delay the start date to Aug. 24 for the 2020-21 fall sports calendar.
The board voted 11-4 to support a motion from Doug Dodd, school board representative from Citrus County, to push back the start by some three weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The action reschedules the start of fall practice to no earlier than Aug. 24, and also authorizes schools currently participating in summer conditioning workouts to continue under the current protocols.
In addition, Dodd’s vote calls for executive director George Tomyn, FHSAA staff and the association’s respective committees to develop a plan ahead of an additional, in-person meeting of the board for the week of Aug. 10-17.
In the event that the FHSAA headquarters building in Gainesville is unavailable under Alachua County regulations on gathering, Tampa Plant athletic director Lauren Otero suggested Tampa as a possible venue.
Assuming a span of at least two weeks for tryouts and practice, the earliest fall sports competition would arrive during the week of Sept. 7.
The vote came only 72 hours after the board passed 10-5 an earlier motion, from Wewahitchka athletic director Bobby Johns, to hold the start date at July 27.
The board, holding its second emergency meeting in the span of 72 hours, overcame the objections led by Johns, who urged the board to hold firm to the July 27 start while taking into account that schools may be unable to start at that time.
“It is a serious overreach on our part when we start telling each school district how they should deal with their student population,” Johns said.
However, board members changed course in the wake of criticism of Monday’s vote, which did not delay the start despite the recommendation of the sports medicine advisory committee, or SMAC.
“I am loath to ignore those,” said Chris Patricca, school board representative from Lee County. “I think it would be irresponsible.”
At Monday’s meeting, which dragged out to five hours in length, the board had voted to hear the SMAC report as “information” only.
Dr. Jennifer Maynard, sports medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic, had urged the board Monday to delay the start of football and volleyball, calling them “not medically safe.”
Maynard said schools should only begin those sports after a demonstrated decrease in new cases and positivity rate, as well as a rolling average positive test percentage of 5 percent or lower through a 28-day period.
The other fall sports — bowling, cross country, golf and swimming and diving — were classified as “acceptable low risk.”
Maynard repeated those concerns before the board Thursday, though she noted that the 5 percent threshold was not absolute and could be modified.
“I would be very careful with going back to play if the percent positive in my area was above 5-10 percent, and that’s why we’re going at the 5 level,” Maynard said.
She also said that volleyball was grouped in football’s risk category because of the indoor environment and the high potential for “respiratory exchange,” citing recommendations issued last week by the NCAA.
Maynard did, however, express concern that the proposed meeting date might not allow the medical committee adequate time to evaluate the possible effects of reopening schools on the spread of COVID-19 in Florida.
She cited recent research that those from the age range between 10 to 19 are able to spread the virus as readily as adults.
Initially, Patricca had moved the full acceptance of the SMAC recommendations, including the postponement of football and volleyball.
“I don’t see a way forward for these two sports in the fall,” Patricca said.
However, she ultimately withdrew a motion that would have delayed football and volleyball in accordance with the recommendation of the SMAC.
Meanwhile, before Thursday’s meeting, school districts across the state continued the process of rescheduling athletics.
Nassau County announced that it was deferring its fall sports practices until Aug. 10.
The School District of Osceola County went further, postponing all football and volleyball practice into September and announcing its withdrawal from the state series in those sports.
In place of playoffs, the district said, it would attempt to schedule additional games on a regional basis during the weeks of the state series.
The Aug. 17 meeting is expected to include input from not only SMAC, but also the athletic directors advisory committee and other bodies as the association seeks to chart a new path forward.
“We can’t make policy from scratch,” said Randy McDaniel, director of education at The Villages Charter School, “with 4,000 people watching us on Zoom.”