s the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association sees the athletic portion of its academic year end with no spring-sports championships, the natural question is: What about the fall?
Or maybe more specifically: Will there be high-school football in 2020?
The answer isn’t satisfying. It’s the same answer to most questions that come up these days involving the future: Nobody knows. The WIAA is working on contingencies for fall, but it’s like hitting a target that’s tossing about in the wind.
What phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start Washington” plan will the state be in when practice starts in August? Will students still be taking classes online?
WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman thinks it’s possible to do some fall sports under Phase 3 of the plan, which allows for gatherings of up to 50 people. Perhaps allowing just parents into a volleyball match?
But what about football, where even the smallest crowds at a game number in the hundreds? Do you attempt it with no crowds? Stream games online? This isn’t a question that will be taken lightly by school districts. Ticket sales for football are key revenue for athletic departments.
And what do you do with the likely scenario of different counties being in different phases? If a team in Moses Lake can start practicing in August, but a team in Everett can’t start until October, how do you have an equitable playoff to decide a state champion? Or will that pursuit be abandoned this year and teams can crown regional champs instead?
“That’s a conversation we’re starting with our (Executive) Board,” Hoffman said. “Do we want to make it all or nothing?”
The WIAA isn’t working alone on these plans. The National Federation of State High Schools Association (NFHS), the national governing body of high-school sports based in Indianapolis, issued guidance this week on how to reopen high-school athletics.
“The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee utilized recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as some return-to-play considerations by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), in formulating this guidance document for reopening athletics and other activities in our nation’s schools,” NFHS executive director Karissa Niehoff said in a news release.
The NFHS guidance resembles the state’s plan as it has three phases to guide schools. Hoffman said the WIAA is combining the NFHS and the governor’s directives to form its own plan. The WIAA is going to consult with state health officials, and they’re hoping to release some guidelines to schools next week.
Among the highlights of the NFHS plan:
What fall sports could come down to for the WIAA is emphasizing the academic positives of athletics over chasing state titles.
So if that team in Moses Lake practices sooner and that team from Everett later, so be it. The point is everybody gets the benefits from competition that’s backed up in countless studies.
“Bottom line, we know what we do is good for kids,” Hoffman said. “We have to worry about what’s good for them before we worry about who wins a trophy.”
Times high school sports coordinator
Two years ago, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association decided to try an experiment on how it would seed the state football tournament.
For the first time, it decided to use a human element, rather than a team’s place at its district tournament or using a system such as the Rating Percentage Index (RPI). It formed committees, mostly made up of coaches and athletic directors, who decided which team deserved which seed, or ranking, for the tournament.
“That got great reviews from the people involved,” WIAA sports information director Casey Johnson said Monday.
Friday, the WIAA Executive Board voted to extend the state seeding committees to all team sports. In the fall, that means football, girls soccer and volleyball. In the winter, basketball will no longer use RPI to seed the state tournament, and will have separate committees for boys and girls. And in spring, it will apply to baseball, softball and boys soccer.
While some of the details will still need to be worked out, the members of the committees will primarily be nominated from league presidents and district directors. Each classification in each sport will have its own committee. Just how big the committees will be, and how they might meet, is still under consideration, but the football committees had seven to nine people and met at WIAA headquarters in Renton.
Eli Sports Network first reported the news Friday.
District tournaments, which still decide which teams qualify for state, for each sport generally end the Saturday before the state tournament, so the committees will meet Sunday and decide where the 16 teams that qualified will fall on the bracket.
In most sports, seeding at state was decided by where a team finished in its district tournament. But upsets at districts could lead to early-round matchups at state between teams favored to win the title, frustrating coaches, players and fans.
In 2016, the WIAA started using RPI to seed the state basketball tournaments. But that’s been questioned as well as O’Dea won the Class 3A state title in 2019 as a No. 11 seed and King’s won the Class 1A state title in March as the No. 14 seed.
RPI will still be in place, and expanded to more sports, but it will be used for informational purposes.
Monday, the WIAA announced the Representative Assembly, a 53-person body made up mostly of athletic directors across the state, passed 18 amendments to the state’s rule book.
Among the more interesting changes is a new rule that gives the Executive Board, a 13-person body of athletic directors, principals or district superintendents, the right to add a trial period for a new activity. That trial period could lead, with enough participation, to it being sanctioned by the WIAA. Lacrosse and eSports could become part of the WIAA through this method.
To see the complete list of amendments, click here.