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Fall sports fate uncertain, LHSAA director says

Staff Report

BATON ROUGE – The coronavirus pandemic has sidelined all definite plans for the start of the 2020-21 high school sports season, the top official for the high school athletic governing body said Monday.

The start of football season under the current Phase 2 restrictions do not allow for the start of fall football in late August, Louisiana High School Athletic Association Executive Director Eddie Bonine told the House Education Committee during a hearing Monday.

Football in its regular format would likely not start until what he called “Phase 4,” he said.

Phase 4 is not existent in the state and federal COVID restrictions outlined by the White House and Centers for Disease Control, but it was developed as a policy by the LHSAA sports medicine advisory committee that used the state’s COVID phases, national guidelines and directives given to all states by the National Federation of Schools. The measure was signed off by the LHSAA’s executive committee and sports medicine committee.

Phase 2 allows for teams to participate in weightlifting and conditioning workouts, but it blocked any 7-on-7 football drills that normally take place in June and July. A move to Phase 3 would have allowed for it and possibly led toward the “Phase 4” that would have possibly opened the door to regular practice in August.

The same rules apply to volleyball, basketball and other upcoming sports that fall under LHSAA jurisdiction.

The directives in place will likely not allow the football season to begin as scheduled in late August, but Bonine said he is not ready to throw in the towel.

The season could likely roll forward later in the year and follow the same protocol the LHSAA has used during hurricanes.

Schools statewide began their seasons several weeks late in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, while some scrapped the schedule outright. The same scenario played out in 2008 after Hurricane Gustav, when some schools did not begin their season until mid-to-late September.

“We’re pretty much doing what they’re doing with the education system,” he said. “To hold games the way we’ve seen them through the years couldn’t be done right now.”

Testing requirements could pose an issue, as well, said state Rep. Ted Brass, D-Vacherie, who serves on the education committee.

The state needs to establish guidance on how to handle a player or coach testing positive, or how they will handle spectators.

The LHSAA is working with Dr. Greg Edwards, its sports medicine advisor, who also works with athletic trainers.

Brass, meanwhile, told Bonine that he hopes the seasons will somehow come to fruition, but not just for the sake of competition.

“Sporting events bring the community together, and they also give players an incentive to also do well in school so they can play on the collegiate level, get a good college education and have a good career,” he said.

Bonine ruled out any immediate plans for a “flip-flop” season, in which football would be held in spring, while basketball and softball/baseball would take place in autumn.

The direction the LHSAA takes on any sports season in the COVID climate would be determined by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The pandemic fallout coincides with the 100th anniversary of the LHSAA formation.

“This is one heck of a way to celebrate this anniversary,” Bonine said.