By Justin Jarrett
The South Carolina High School League’s plan for the fall sports season began to take shape last week — albeit somewhat amorphous — when the league’s executive committee denied a proposal to restructure the entire 2020–21 calendar and approved a plan to push back the start of fall sports.
A nearly three-hour online meeting of the SCHSL Executive Committee and school administrators covered plenty of ground — including the Lexington 1 School District’s proposal to proceed with low- and moderate-risk sports in the fall and move higher-risk sports, including football, to the spring. But their ultimate decision was to stay the course, moving the start of football practice back from July 31 to Aug. 17 with hopes of playing a seven-game regular season and four-week postseason, rather than the typical five-round format. Teams that do not qualify for the condensed postseason would be permitted to schedule an eighth game.
Other fall sports could begin practice Aug. 17 and play their first games beginning Sept. 1. All sports that use region standings for playoff seeding — football, volleyball, and girls tennis — would be asked to play region contests first during the compacted season in hopes of completing the region schedule and preserving the prospect of a traditional postseason.
SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton touted the plan’s flexibility, including the prospect of further delaying the start of the season if the state of the COVID-19 pandemic does not improve, as well as the ability to play either a full or compacted schedule in the winter and spring seasons if the fall slate is delayed further. Singleton said the start of the football regular season could be pushed back as far as Oct. 2 before having to dramatically alter the seven-game format, and the schedule could also accommodate an interruption of up to two weeks without invading other sports’ seasons.
“This virus is truly a moving target,” Singleton said. “I think it would be a mistake if we just tried to time it out. … We won’t be able to predict that the virus will be any less at any time than what it is now.”
Singleton said the league hopes the additional delay will provide time for mask mandates and other preventative measures to take hold, as well as allowing time for experts to learn more about how the virus is spread and thus how to implement guidelines to prevent the spread during athletic competition.
Critics of the SCHSL proposal on social media argued it wasn’t much of a plan at all and favored the Lexington 1 proposal or the approach the state’s private schools are taking, which essentially amounts to full speed ahead.
SCISA Athletics Director Mike Fanning reiterated to member schools this week that the league will move forward with its plans to begin full practices July 29 and proceed with a full 10-game regular season and playoffs as scheduled.
Another point of contention during Wednesday’s discussion was the subject of offseason workouts, which SCHSL approved beginning June 8. Local SCISA programs also are conducting summer workouts, but the Beaufort County School District announced this week it would delay the start of summer workouts from July 20 to Aug. 10, now just one week ahead of the proposed start of fall practice.
Greenville County Schools, which also have shut down in-person workouts, presented a proposal to halt workouts statewide, citing a competitive advantage, but the proposal was denied.
When the meandering Zoom meeting finally wrapped up, the answers that were provided were mostly tentative. With the pandemic still occurring in real-time, the executive committee plans to reconvene Aug. 4, hopefully armed with more information to advance a plan for competition this fall.
“Hopefully,” Singleton said, “we discover more that will allow us to be more relaxed, not more prohibitive.”