MHSAA announces that it is postponing the 2020 football season until the spring of 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic

It was definitely a gut punch hearing the news Friday afternoon. After seeing the colleges cancel their seasons obviously it was in the back of my head and I knew the possibility was there. We told our guys that we didn’t know if we’d even get the chance to play, but we’d be ready if we got the green light.” – Eric Tunney, Varsity Football Coach, Grayling High School
The announcement that the Michigan High School Athletic Association has moved the fall 2020 football season to the spring of 2021 – made public at approximately 4 p.m. on Friday, August 14 – probably wasn’t surprising to a lot of coaches and players, especially after so many college football programs have cancelled or postponed their fall seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it still hurt.
“It was definitely a gut punch hearing the news Friday afternoon,” said Eric Tunney, varsity football coach for Grayling High School. “We had just finished our fifth day of two-a-days and told the kids to rest up and get ready for full pads on Monday and then bam! After seeing the colleges cancel their seasons obviously it was in the back of my head and I knew the possibility was there. Colleges have a lot of logistical issues like flights, hotels, meals, larger teams, and staffs as well as financial implications that we don’t necessarily have at the high school level. We told our guys that we didn’t know if we’d even get the chance to play, but we’d be ready if we got the green light.”
High school football teams in Michigan started their official practice sessions for the 2020 season on Monday, August 10. Coach Tunney said the Viking players gave great effort during the first week.
“Just about every morning during warm-ups I told them we get another day to get better. I’m proud of how the kids attacked everything despite seeing the news about college football each day. It was with the same tenacity and effort as any year, maybe even more so,” Coach Tunney said.
Before practices started on August 10, the Vikings had a productive offseason despite limitations caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had to get creative and think outside the box, but overall I think it went well. Early on we shifted our focus away from traditional training and found new resources to work on speed and agility along with bodyweight training. We were able to still do some football activities occasionally and it was great to just be back with the kids and on the field. Once the weight room opened up in July we were limited with numbers but a lot of kids were eager to get back in there. We weren’t able to do any 7-on-7s, which put us behind a bit, but nobody in the state was allowed to do them either. Overall I think we made the best of a tough situation and seeing how the kids were attacking all of the workouts made it fun to come to each day,” Coach Tunney said.
Coach Tunney said the first week of official practice sessions also went well and he learned some things about his team that will help if the season is able to be played during the spring.
“Definitely a lot of positives from the first week. We were a bit behind due to being limited this summer but we found some guys that can play some football. We had some new guys come out and they definitely got better and will be contributors when we do get the chance to play again. Anytime we’re together as a team it’s great and it’s amazing how much the kids grow in just one week. I think it built some momentum and excitement within our program, especially coming off of the tough spring and summer situations,” Coach Tunney said.
Are football teams allowed to continue practicing? Coach Tunney said the Vikings are planning to transition back into offseason mode.
“We have not been given any guidance as far as what we’re allowed to do. In talks with our Athletic Director, Nate Maury, it makes sense that we are now considered ‘out of season’ so we wouldn’t be allowed to practice with more than four athletes but we would still be allowed to do workouts.  Depending on what guidelines we’re given from the governor, MHSAA, and our school district, we will make a plan and do what we can and make the most of a tough situation,” Coach Tunney said.
Michigan has been without high school sports since March of 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MHSAA suspended and then cancelled the end of the 2019-2020 winter sports season, and the association cancelled the 2020 spring sports season in April of this year. The MHSAA, as part of its “Return To Play” guidance, has grouped sports into three categories – “lower-risk,” “moderate-risk,” and “high-risk” – and offered different sets of regulations and guidelines for each one.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association lists football as a “high-risk” sport. “Higher risk sports involve close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers, and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants,” according to the MHSAA.
The MHSAA announced the move of football from fall to spring on Friday, August 14.
“The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association today announced it will move the 2020 fall football season to spring 2021, due to football’s higher risk for spreading COVID-19, with the rest of fall sports proceeding as scheduled,” according to the MHSAA. “The football season switch was made based on consultation with state health department officials and after surveying MHSAA member high schools on their progress and preferences after the first four days of practice. Football is considered a high-risk sport for potential spread of the COVID-19 virus because of its level of player-to-player contact.”
“At the end of the day, we did everything we could to find a path forward for football this fall. But while continuing to connect with the governor’s office, state health department officials, our member schools’ personnel, and the (Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association), there is just too much uncertainty and too many unknowns to play football this fall,” said Mark Uyl, MHSAA Executive Director. “No one is willing to take the risk of COVID being passed on because of a high-risk sport. Decisions have to be made on our other sports as well, but none of those carry the same close, consistent, and face-to-face contact as football.”
“While this is tremendously disappointing, we will do everything possible to provide the best possible experience in the spring while adding football into the calendar,” Uyl said.
The MHSAA did not offer specifics with regard to how football will fit into the spring season. The switch could have a significant impact on winter sports and spring sports, and there are a lot of questions to be answered going forward. 
Will conditions associated with the coronavirus be improved enough in the spring to proceed with football? 
Will other fall sports be postponed until the spring? Boys soccer? Volleyball?
Will the winter sports season be shortened? The spring season?
Will there be overlap of seasons? Will football overlap the winter season, the spring season, or both? (“The MHSAA will be working to limit overlap of spring football and the traditional spring sport seasons,” according to the August 14 announcement.)
Will the football season be shortened? Will there be playoffs?
What effect could this move have on Grayling High School’s three varsity spring sports for boys? Will football players have to choose between playing football or baseball? Football or boys golf? Football or track?
Will the end of the spring season be moved into the summer?
Is it fair and safe to ask football players to complete a season in both the spring of 2020 and the fall of 2021? What effect will the switch have on athletes looking to play at the next level in college?
Will field conditions in northern Michigan and in the Upper Peninsula allow for football to be played in early spring, if that is where it gets slotted? Even if schools are able to keep their fields clear of snow, would the playing surfaces be thawed enough and safe to play on?
The MHSAA said answers are coming.
“Details for the spring football season, including a specific schedule and format, will be announced over the next few months,” according to the MHSAA.
“Playing in the spring certainly has its hurdles,” Coach Tunney said. “Trying to find a good time frame to do it so as to not disrupt winter and spring sports is a challenge, and definitely the snow on the ground up here. It will be tough. I know the director of the MHSAA has a son who is a senior three-sport athlete and it’s his mission to try and make that happen. My hope is that these kids, seniors especially, get the opportunity to play some games. I don’t know when, how, or against who, but we will do what we can to make sure that happens.”

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