Opinion: GHSA's only logical choice is postpone start of fall sports

By NICHOLAS SULLIVAN
Posted 7/19/20

The Georgia High School Association Board of Trustees has announced it will meet at 1 p.m. Monday in Thomaston. According to the GHSA website, "The meeting will be for the purpose of discussion …

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Opinion: GHSA's only logical choice is postpone start of fall sports

Posted

The Georgia High School Association Board of Trustees has announced it will meet at 1 p.m. Monday in Thomaston. According to the GHSA website, "The meeting will be for the purpose of discussion concerning the opening of fall sports."

Truthfully, there is only one logical course of action the governing body should take on this front — push back the start of fall sports. It's not necessary to outright cancel the seasons — yet — for activities such as cheerleading, cross country, football, softball and volleyball, but there's also no reason to rigidly stick to their current schedules.

Those worried that Monday's meeting will end with fall sports in the state being delayed or canceled completely need not fret. Per board member Steven Craft's Twitter page, "Please understand that Monday’s meeting will be a discussion on how best to move forward with athletics. There will not be any votes to cancel or approve modified schedules. We understand that everyone is nervous about the fall. The BOT and the state office wants to play!"

That would seem to be a signal that all is well in the world of Georgia high school sports. Then again, it's worth pointing out that Craft is the athletic director for the Fulton County School System. Just days ago, that system announced it would begin the school year 100% remotely on Aug. 17.

For those who haven't kept tabs on such things, Fulton County isn't the only school system to make such a move. Based on a report by the Associated Press, Atlanta Public Schools and county systems in Clayton, Cobb and DeKalb have made similar decisions. Cartersville City Schools recently opted to push back the start of its school year to Aug. 18.

In the spring, the GHSA held the stated opinion that it would enter a complete shutdown as long as school campuses remained closed. In a March 17 update posted to its website, the GHSA said it is "an extension of our member schools in providing education-based sports and activities. As such, and in response to Governor [Brian] Kemp's mandatory closure of Georgia's public schools, the mandatory closure will extend to all GHSA sports and activities including practice."

And yet, even with the number of COVID-19 cases in the state higher now than in the spring, the GHSA seems to be moving forward with its fall sports as scheduled. Even the school systems mentioned above that have decided to continue digital learning haven't ruled out holding sports in the fall.

It might seem unfair to suggest that this is all a direct result of the cash cow that is football being conducted in the fall, but it also doesn't seem like a coincidence. All other fall sports, for better or for worse, are seemingly tied to the decision to move forward with football.

For the record, here are the current beginning dates for the different fall sports. (Note that in its latest update to workout protocols, the GHSA wouldn't commit one way or another to sticking to those dates. Although, Craft's comments would seem to suggest the plan is to leave those in place.) Football's acclimation period is slated to begin July 27 with the first official games able to be conducted Aug. 21. Practices for cheerleading, cross country, softball and volleyball can start Aug. 1 with initial competition dates ranging from Aug. 6-10.

Pushing back the beginning of the regular season for these sports would hardly seem to put any team at a disadvantage, especially considering the shortened summer window programs across the state have faced.

In most years, football players are able to wear helmets virtually the entire summer. Due to the GHSA's measured reopening plans, those athletes will be able to wear helmets for the first time at workouts Monday — the same day the board of trustees is apparently meeting to pretend this has been an adequate offseason to prepare players for the rigors of playing games in mid-August.

At this point, a vast majority of coaches and players seem ready to move ahead as planned. That's fine, but those whose jobs require protecting school staff and children above all else need to have the gumption to make the hard decisions.

That doesn't mean high school sports need to be canceled in Georgia. But between the coronavirus, delayed starts or online learning in schools, and less time for teams to prepare for their seasons, it does seem obvious that postponing the start of fall sports is the only prudent move.