Fall Sports Sidelined Until September

Friday night lights throughout Texas will remain dark until late September, and maybe longer.

On Tuesday, the UIL unveiled a tentative fall calendar that delays the start of the high school football season for teams in the 5A and 6A classifications by almost a month, as well as other fall sports including volleyball, team tennis, and cross country.

As part of health and safety precautions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the UIL also required larger schools — including Highland Park, Jesuit, W.T. White, and Hillcrest — to pause on-campus athletic workouts, and not resume until the week of Sept. 7. TAPPS and the SPC issued similar mandates last week. Here’s what you need to know:

  • As of now, regular-season football games can begin on the weekend of Sept. 25, with plans to complete a full 10-game schedule followed by the playoffs. It’s up to individual schools and district committees to finalize those plans, including the possibility of starting games a week later and eliminating the bye week.
  • In unprecedented moves, the football regular season would stretch into December. The final weeks of postseason play, including the state championship games, would extend into January.
  • Other fall sports can start practicing on Sept. 8. Volleyball games would get underway one week later, with the playoffs commencing in mid-November. State competitions for volleyball and cross country are now slated for December.
  • Seasons for winter sports are unaffected thus far, with the exception of restricting in-season tournament play for basketball teams. The basketball season will still start in early November, which is normally when football is winding down. That could force multi-sport athletes to make one-or-the-other choices.

Most schools in classes 4A and below, which are generally located in rural areas with fewer health risks, will tentatively begin their 2020 campaigns as scheduled.

The UIL decision follows on the heels of last week’s orders by county governments in Dallas and other Texas cities to suspend all on-campus classes and extracurricular activities until after Labor Day.

It’s noteworthy that because of that government order — which also could be extended, by the way — local schools won’t be able to begin practice until Sept. 8, one day later than the UIL allows. With such a condensed calendar, that disparity could be significant.

As of last week, summer workouts were ongoing at most schools with mask restrictions and social distancing guidelines. Fall practices were originally slated to begin on Aug. 3 for team sports, with the volleyball season starting a week later. Regular-season football games were scheduled for the week of Aug. 28.

There are other logistical and health-related issues still to be addressed, too, such as eligibility for students learning online rather than attending in-person classes. The UIL has said that such students are eligible for competition, but their participation is subject to approval from individual school districts. Plus, any regulations for fan attendance haven’t yet been determined.

As schedules are reshuffled, scrimmages probably will be canceled, which complicates the efforts of coaches to sort out their rosters and bring some normalcy to their preseason routines.

Depending on the success of coronavirus mitigation efforts, everything could still change. Will the entire football season be canceled? That seems unfathomable, but still a possibility. At the very least, August and September will look radically different from any other year for local football players and fans.

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