Miami Herald | by David Wilson | August 14, 2020
High school sports can officially begin in Florida this month.
The Florida High School Athletic Association’s Board of Directors voted Friday to approve Aug. 24 as start of practice for fall sports seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The board voted 11-5 in favor of the plan, which will mostly keep the fall calendar intact with abbreviated regular seasons.
The plan lines up Sept. 4 as the first first Friday of high school football season, less than two weeks after practices are allowed to begin. Fall sports practices were originally supposed to begin last month with the regular season beginning Aug. 20. School districts in South Florida, however, are concerned this will effectively disqualify them from state championship contention as the region continues to struggle with COVID-19. Neither Miami-Dade County nor Broward County have announced when they will allow practices to begin for member schools.
This plan — one of three options the board weighed Friday at an in-person meeting in Gainesville — came with the backing of FHSAA executive director George Tomyn and Gov. Ron DeSantis. The FHSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, however, recommended sports be further delayed so medical experts could learn how the reopening of schools might contribute to the spread of coronavirus.
The FHSAA’s decision comes just two days after the Miami-Dade County Public Schools board voted unanimously to explore withdrawing from the FHSAA. Dr. Steve Gallon, vice chair of the school board, said in a text message the decision further underscores why MDCPS is considering withdrawal.
“The 11-5 decision of the FHSAA, as well as the lengthy discussion, further confirm the importance of local authority and decision-making,” said Gallon, who initially proposed MDCPS withdraw from FHSAA. “Clearly, COVID-19 has revealed the significant regional differences that go into organizing, operating, and overseeing interscholastic sports across the state. It also reinforces and undergirds my previous position that for Miami-Dade and other south Florida districts, such organization, operation and oversight may be best served outside of the FHSAA and within a more regional, local and equitable structure.
“Any real, true state championship series that forfeits the inclusion of teams from South Florida would be anything but.”
The other two plans called for the start of practices to be delayed either into October or November, which would have increased the likelihood of South Florida schools completing a full season.
Instead, the FHSAA is pushing forward with the fall sports calendar mostly unchanged.
Originally, the board voted last month to keep the calendar entirely unchanged and allow sports to begin in July, but faced massive backlash from coaches, athletic directors and administrators across the state. This original decision prompted Gallon to propose MDCPS withdraw from the state association.
In response, the board reconvened for an emergency meeting a few days later and instead voted to delay the start of fall sports until at least Aug. 24, buying it time to reconvene once again in August to consider more thorough proposals.
“Option 1” — the plan the board voted to approve Friday — keeps the Aug. 24 date intact and establishes a nine-week regular season for football. The postseason will still begin on schedule in November and state championships will be crowned in December, as usual. The regular season in all fall sports can begin Sept. 4, a few days earlier than the recommended two-week window between the start of practice and the start of the season.
While this plan is better for South Florida than the original put forth in July, it still creates problems for schools across the Miami metropolitan area. MDCPS schools won’t begin in-person instruction until at least October and Broward County Public Schools don’t have a set date to begin in-person classes, either. The FHSAA also a Sept. 18 opt out for schools to be able to break away from the state’s plan and set their own schedules. If teams opt out, they could theoretically continue playing games beyond the regular season outside of the state series. In the Miami metro area, this might be a necessity.
Part of the FHSAA plans waives the minimum games requirement to qualify for the postseason, but there is still no timeline in place for public schools in the Miami area to begin practice as the positivity rate across the region is still higher than 10 percent. A year after Miami-Dade and Broward counties combined to win 7 of 8 football state championships, there are no assurances the two counties will be able to compete this year.