If there is to be high school athletics in the fall in the midst of dealing with the coronavirus, everyone must do their part by following guidelines for safe social gathering.
That was one of the messages by Eddie Bonine when the executive director of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association spoke with several members of the media via a video conference on Wednesday.
“We need to go back to that because if we want fall sports, if we want high school sports or some sort in the fall, we really need to take care of the month of July and August to get us there,” said Bonine.
It was a message quite similar to one expressed by Bonine only weeks ago, which seem to have gone unheeded by some.
“I told (people) at one point or another that I surly hope we don’t do anything in May and June that affects July and August. Well, we did something in June that apparently is now affecting us in July and now we will be 24 days into July before we can potentially move to Phase Three. It gives us a few more less restrictions, if you will, as we start contact sports. If we go any further than that, we really will have difficulty starting the fall sports seasons on schedule,” said Bonine.
Bonine was referring to an announcement earlier in the week by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards that the state will remain in Phase Two instead of moving on to Phase Three, which includes more relaxed rules while dealing with social gatherings.
The governor’s proclamation several weeks ago that put Phase Two in effect was set to expire on Friday. Edwards announced the state will remain in Phase Two for another 28 days following the original deadline, keeping Louisiana out of Phase Three until at least July 24, when the next proclamation expires.
“When the governor made his proclamation of staying in Phase Two for another 28 days, which takes us to July 24. It is good news, bad news for Eddie,” said Bonine, speaking in third person. “I had heard from a pretty reliable source that there was a potential there we would potentially toggle back to Phase One. That was a concern. Obviously, it didn’t come to fruition.
“Phase Two, remaining where it is now, didn’t catch us off guard or surprised by it, but it does change what we’re looking to do philosophically.”
Phase Three is of particular importance to football coaches since it allows for physical contact. It also allows for large group gatherings.
“We can do a lot in Phase Two – heat acclimation, physical conditioning, training, stuff like that,” said Bonine. “But in Phase Two you are only looking a static group of 25. A static group of 25, when you play football, you have 22 out there but you also have coaches on the sidelines, the officials.
“The contact needs to be limited under Phase Two. We have to get to Phase Three and Phase Four, which I haven’t seen but I assume would be a static group of 250.”
Anything short of moving to Phase Three past July 24 puts the start of the football season in jeopardy, said Bonine.
“The further we go into past July or into (August), jamborees are in jeopardy and scrimmages are jeopardy,” the LHSAA executive director said. “Potentially Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, we have contingency plans if Week 1 doesn’t play, if Week 2 doesn’t play, and Week 3 doesn’t play.
“This precedence has been set before with hurricanes before when certain games of the season have been postponed or cancelled. That is not unprecedented.”
What is unprecedented is the amount of uncertainly heading into the season.
“We are trying to make a game plan on potentials. We can’t have a cover for everything, but it’s not just us. It’s our educational leaders, it’s our government leaders, it’s everybody. We just have to wait and see and work our way through that,” said Bonine.
Among the things high school officials will have to work through is the length of the season should the advent of Phase Three be further delayed.
A shortened season, Bonine said, likely would feature the cancellation of games in the early weeks of the season and perhaps reducing the playoff brackets.
“We start with the Superdome and work our way back. I’m not sliding the schedule,” said Bonine.
“If we lose Week 1, we lose Week 1. If we lose Week 2, we lose Week 2. We lose Week 3, We lose Week 3,” he continued. “We figure it out. But how deep can you go before in losing weeks before it’s going to be a substantial season?
“We could adjust the playoff schedule. Instead of 32 teams, we make 16. On the select side, we look at whatever that number is.”
That leads to another uncertainty.
“How far in the season do you go before when you say it’s not worth it. That decision may be made for us (with a further delay to Phase Three),” said Bonine.
The potential scenarios are endless and goes well beyond athletics.
“Let’s just say when schools resume, are they resuming with masks on or masks off, so is it required or strongly recommended,” Bonine said. “Will the room class go from 30 to 15? Are they social distanced?
“If all those mitigating bases are in place in the school, and then at 3:30 we are going to go out and play football. That athlete is not wearing a mask, isn’t social distancing, and they are basically slobber-knocking while going through full contact and then you turn around the next day and they have to class and social distance. All that stuff has to be taken into consideration.”
Another consideration is what happens should a player or coach test positive during the season?
“Week One, we didn’t play. Week Two we played. The (offensive coordinator) or someone tests positive on a Tuesday and he is a school teacher,” Bonine offered as an example. “What classes does he teach? Who does he have contact with? Was he in the teachers’ lounge? All of a sudden, the school has to spend a lot of time on contract tracing. Before you know it, the athletes go home, the coach goes home. Maybe all the coaching staff goes home. That school can’t play football then.”
That also could lead to a 14-day quarantine.
The number of coronavirus cases is definitely rising, both on school campuses and beyond.
“Of our 64 parishes, to my knowledge, we have over 20 that have now either modified, shut down or suspended summer participation because they knew they had a coach, a sponsor, an athlete or athletes that have tested positive,” said Bonine.
To address that concern, the public at large might follow the playbook of high school athletic officials, suggests Bonine.
“We’ve proven that all the spikes we have had is community stuff,” said Bonine. “Our coaches, our athletic directors, the principals, the superintendents of all our public and private schools are doing a hell of a job. They are doing what they are supposed to do to keep the athletes safe.
“Nobody gets the virus when they are at school. They get it once they leave or go wherever they are going to do whatever they have to do.”