The Mississippi High School Activities Association is kicking around different ideas for high school sports’ return, including possibly flipping football to the spring and baseball and softball to the fall.
A 15-member committee met Tuesday and will meet again July 14 as it tries to find the best possible solution. Executive Director Don Hinton said that while nothing has changed at this point, every option is on the table.
“Pretty much everything was discussed from proceeding as currently scheduled, to delaying the start of the fall sports seasons and shortening games schedules to even switching fall sports to the spring. Obviously each of these changes have different levels of impact,” he said in a statement. “There’s been talk about moving football to the spring, but there are a lot of different issues with implementing that scenario. Our committee knows spring sports were cut short in March. What happens if the COVID situation leads to a shutdown in the fall and those students end up missing two consecutive seasons? So we have to look at the impact across the board.”
West Marion head football coach Brad Duncan said from what he understands that flipping the schedules is a last-resort option. He said it’s also possible the football season gets pushed back a few weeks or that teams only play district games.
“Personally, I hope it doesn’t flip. There’s a lot of larger schools, especially from the Coast area, pushing that. I don’t think it’s going to happen. Reading between the lines and talking to people, they want it to be as close to normal as possible,” he said.
Columbia head coach Chip Bilderback said the state has to do whatever is best for the kids and that he understands the heartbreak spring sport athletes felt when their seasons were lost because of the pandemic. He said he does think there will be some sort of football in the fall but doesn’t know what it will look like. He added it’s already going to be different for schools in northern Mississippi because they regularly play non-district games against schools from Tennessee, which has already pushed back its season.
If the seasons were flipped, Duncan said it would change everything. It would cause football teams to slow down their summer workouts, according to Duncan, but he said the main concern is financial.
“Especially for small schools, most of our funding comes from football. That’s the revenue generator,” he explained. “If we don’t have money coming in — baseball is close to being self-sufficient — but we have to help the other sports as far as dividing up the revenue. We would be in a predicament as far as paying umpires if we were to start baseball right now with budget cuts like they are in education. We would be in a pickle to pay for the sports they’re talking about.”
Bilderback agreed that there will be some financial impact if the seasons were flipped, but he said what would need to happen in a flipped situation is the shortening of seasons. He said if football were to have a full 11-week regular season plus playoffs in the spring, some student athletes may quit basketball before the season is over because they don’t want to miss several football games. Basketball usually ends during the second week of March, but a full football season would have to begin in mid-February.
Duncan, though, said he’s glad the association is at least making plans for every possible scenario. Whatever the outcome is, Duncan said he hopes high school sports return soon.
“Nothing brings communities together like high school sports does. I don’t mean that in a corny way, but it’s true. High school sports unites communities,” he said.
Whether they end up playing or not might also depend in part on the public’s heeding of health warnings. Gov. Tate Reeves, in an address Wednesday, warned that cases are spiking because people are not wearing masks and following other protocols.
“There’s very little in the world that I want more than to see football being played in the fall, to have our kids back in school, to ensure that no businesses are closed and that no families are shut inside their homes, but I want to tell you, and maybe even warn you, the only thing I fear more than that is widespread death as a result of a collapsing hospital system,” Reeves said. “I’m begging you, I’m begging every one of my fellow Mississippians to please play your part.”