With less than five weeks left before the first games of the 2020 high school football season are scheduled to kick off, Gov. Mike DeWine has yet to approve competitions between schools.
That approval may be a while off, as DeWine has said on several occasions he believes more time is needed to consider the issue.
“We know that practices have been taking place,” DeWine said during his daily press conference on Wednesday. “We understand the timeline. But we want to see where we are. We need to get a little closer (to the season) before we can make any kind of decision.”
While the final decision is yet to be made, the Ohio High School Athletic Association is preparing for the season to proceed as scheduled, even as COVID-19 continues to slowly spread throughout the state.
The association released guidelines on Wednesday for how games should be conducted this season, one day after the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association sent the OHSAA a 38-page proposal for how training, practices, scrimmages and games should be run.
The OHSAA recommendations include extending team boxes to the 10-yard lines on each side of the field so players can spread out more, banning the sharing of towels and equipment, sanitizing footballs multiple times during games, allowing coaches and team staff to wear masks and gloves and allowing players to wear cloth masks.
Among the biggest changes the recommendations call for: extending timeouts to two minutes in length, extending the break between quarters to two minutes and shortening halftime to 10 minutes so players aren’t confined in a locker room for too long a period.
“I think everything seems reasonable,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said. “Now we have to comb through all the rules and make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
Other recommendations include eliminating players shaking hands after games, limiting each team to one representative during coin tosses and not sharing beverages or drinking stations.
Those recommendations go along with previously recommended pre-participation screenings that including temperature checks and symptom assessments.
“The big thing it seems they’re trying (with the recommendations) is avoid kids being within six feet of someone for more than 15 minutes,” Doenges said. “That seems to be the time period (when virus spread is more likely to occur).
“We’re going to have to be creative with our meetings and all that kind of stuff, make sure the kids get their masks on. The big thing we want to avoid is if a kid comes down with it, we want to limit the spread. If a kid comes down with it and (has to quarantine) for 14 days, we don’t want five, six, seven other kids to have caught it and also (be sidelined).”
The OHSAA stressed in a memo to school administrators its recommendations (which drew from both National Federation of High School guidance as well as OHSFCA guidance) are not exhaustive and added, “there might be additional steps in each school city, and state to help prevent the spread of virus.”
Other schools and leagues are already making further restrictions. One recently announced change came from the Miami Valley League, which has decided marching bands will not travel to road games.
Other issues — including spectator attendance — are still up in the air.
Football teams throughout the state have been practicing throughout July following a move earlier in the summer by the OHSAA to allow unlimited offseason practicing time for all sports.
Preseason practice for football and other fall sports officially begins Aug. 1.
“We keep telling our kids the goal is to get to August,” Doenges said. “When we get to August, the goal is to continue to stay healthy.”
The OHSAA is also planning for disruptions and game cancelations caused by COVID-19 outbreaks. As part of that planning, the association announced in a memo sent to administrators on Thursday it is removing its 8-game requirement for playoff qualification.
This year, there won’t be a minimum of regular-season games required to qualify for playoffs. So if some teams have difficulty finding opponents or playing some weeks due to COVID-19 outbreaks, their playoff chances won’t be impacted.
“There are going to be some teams that lose some games I think, and that’s going to be the crazy part,” Doenges said. “It might end up being like a freshman schedule. There have been problems recently in our league with freshman teams.
“Only five, six, seven teams may have freshman teams at the start of the season, but a couple of kids get hurt, and know they don’t have a team. We’ve had to search the same week to find (an opponent) and all of a sudden, we’re playing a Wapakoneta or a Versailles or somebody.
“That may be something you see at the varsity level. It’s going to be a week-by-week thing. If you can’t find a game or you have to sit out three games (due to an outbreak), I don’t think it should hurt (your playoff chances).”
The OHSAA also announced on Thursday playoff games will be played at the stadium of the highest-seeded team through at least the second round of the playoffs, and possibly into the third round. Normally, home sites are used in the first round of the playoffs and neutral locations are used in the final four rounds.
“I don’t think that’s a terrible idea,” Doenges said. “I can’t imagine many school want to host (as a neutral site) with all this going on. This might make it a lot easier to have places to play playoff games — you’re the high seed, so you’re the home team and you have to host.”
If Ohio high school football kicks off as scheduled in the last week of August, it may be in the minority of states that do so. Athletic associations or state governments in 20 states have already postponed the start of fall sports, including Virginia, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Washington, which have postponed fall sports to the first half of 2021.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.