In an absolutely perfect world, the simple solution in contending with COVID-19 is to move high-risk contact sports like football, volleyball and soccer to the spring.
That’s exactly what the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, home of Rose-Hulman, did on Monday at the college level. The Missouri Valley Conference went a different route and delayed the start of their fall sports (apart from football) to mid-September with a conference-only schedule.
Other conferences in the college ranks have done the same.
What’s not to like about the plan? It gives us time to get a better handle on the virus. It takes pressure off of school administrators that, frankly, have more important things to worry about than extracurricular activities like sports, and most of all? It would be safe.
Note that I said “in an absolutely perfect world,” and as you well know, we’re a pretty long ways away from that.
I don’t get a vote, but I’ve been trying to put myself in the shoes of administrators who have to make decisions on high school sports. Delaying the season, or even trading the fall high-risk contact sports for spring low-risk contact sports, creates just as many problems as it solves.
In college, you can push seasons back without much consequence because athletes are specialized. Playing football in the spring is viable since few of those athletes play anything else.
That’s not true for high schools. Can you imagine the intra-school back-biting among coaches who want athletes to pick their sport over another they would typically play? That already happens in the current high school sports calendar.
Some schools would have a lot of players out for baseball and not enough for football and vice versa. Or more out for volleyball than softball. One way or another, participation in certain individual sports is going to be killed by the virus or competition with other sports if the can is kicked down the road to the spring.
Trading seasons is actually a fine idea – had it been proposed a few months ago. Fall practices have already begun in several sports. Yes, we all knew it was possible that they would have to shut down, but I’m not sure pivoting to a different sport is the answer, at least not this late in the game.
Besides, there are low-risk contact fall sports – golf and tennis jump immediately to mind – that can compete as scheduled.
Then you get into the weeds of how to organize competitions. How do you get officials? How do you create a schedule? Larger schools have dedicated athletic directors, so they could perhaps absorb the enormity of that, but smaller schools don’t have that luxury.
Also, and we ought to know this by now, there are absolutely no guarantees of where the virus will be next spring. Many of the assumptions we had about COVID-19 didn’t come to pass. Remember how it was supposed to take a “break” when temperatures warmed up? Many leagues went on that assumption for future planning and painted themselves into a corner when it didn’t happen.
I should add here that I’m not criticizing school officials or sanctioning bodies like the IHSAA or IHSA. It’s very easy to complain about their decisions, but they were thrust into an unprecedented quandary with little help or guidance from local and state officials, who can’t unite on their own policies. They’re as much a prisoner of the virus as any team or athlete is. I don’t envy the decisions they have to make.
What stinks is that we’re really in COVID-19 limbo with quite a bit of contradictory data. Cases have risen in Indiana since mid-June, though lately, test positivity has plateaued. Not at an acceptable level (it’s in the 7-8% range, above the recommended 5%), but test positivity and hospitalizations are not (yet) skyrocketing like they are in the South.
Still, the test positivity rate is still too high, in Indiana at least, and there’s no trend administrators can latch onto to devise a coherent plan.
Here in Vigo County, cases are up, but Vigo County is still far lower in terms of overall cases than similar-sized counties elsewhere in the state, like Tippecanoe, Monroe and Delaware counties. Is that good or bad? Does that mean we still face a wave? When community fathers make irresponsible decisions like allowing a river festival to go on? It makes you wonder.
The nature of COVID-19 itself doesn’t help. The majority of positive tests among the athletes involve minor to no symptoms at all, but of course, that’s not the primary problem. The issue is if the “healthy” COVID-19 folks spread to those who are higher risk.
We live in a planned world. COVID-19 laughs at those plans. But some of the contingency plans, like moving fall sports to the spring, aren’t solutions, they’re just creating new problems.
So we trudge along. Hoping for the best and fearing the worst.
Todd Aaron Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.