It’s been on a lot of people’s minds for months here in Marion County and throughout the country, and the time has come to really take a look at what a return to high school sports will actually look like.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association has been discussing the possibility of flipping fall and spring sports recently, meaning football would be played in the spring and baseball and softball would be played in the fall. There are a few lines of thought in consideration for this idea: Giving spring athletes an early opportunity to rectify the heartbreak of having their seasons canceled, limiting the large crowds football draws while the pandemic is still a major threat and most importantly, for the survival of all sports, making the most money possible.
As always, to get to the root of an idea like this, you have to follow the money. The simple reality is football is the biggest cash cow in all of prep sports. For many schools, particularly small schools, the revenue generated from football is equal to or greater than the revenue brought in for most every other sport combined. That money gets spread around throughout a school’s entire athletic budget so football pays for a lot of other sports that don’t draw a lot of fans.
At this point in time, we don’t know what the CDC guidelines will be in six weeks when high school football is set to begin, but it’s highly doubtful that everything will be back to normal in that timeframe. So allowing fans to watch games without limiting attendance seems pretty farfetched in less than two months time.
That leads to the idea of limiting the capacity to 50% or lower or allowing each player to have a few family members in attendance. Then you also have to take into consideration concession stands and bathrooms, which would be guaranteed potential hotspots for spreading the coronavirus, so they may have to be closed all together. So with limited capacity and either limited or no revenue being made with concessions, football in the fall may not be the prime revenue generator it usually is. That’s the main concept at play when considering flipping the schedules.
Ultimately, though, flipping the schedules just doesn’t really work. Even with moving football to the spring, either basketball or football, or both, would have to have their schedules reduced because the timeframe just doesn’t work. Basketball usually ends during the second week in March, and if football began the following week there would only be 10 weeks until the end of school. Between the regular season and playoffs, football lasts 16 weeks — 17 if you add in a jamboree week.
The best possible option in my eyes would be either to delay the start of the football season a few weeks and only play the district schedule, giving the state essentially an extra month to get ahead of the virus, or to limit the capacity at the beginning of the season and go week-to-week deciding when to allow more fans and open concessions.
Although the concept of moving football to the spring could potentially be the best financial option, assuming there is a vaccine by then or the spread has stopped, the logistics just don’t make enough sense.
There’s going to be a budget shortage any way you slice it, and there may have to be some unpopular cuts to make up for it. But at the end of the day, high school sports are about the student athletes, not money. Making decisions based on money when it comes to children is never the right way to go.
Joshua Campbell is sports editor of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him via email at email@example.com or call (601) 736-2611.