The attention now turns to August.
After last week’s announcement that canceled high school spring sports for the rest of the academic year, will fall sports start on time?
The answer to that query is that it’s too soon to tell.
The Utah High School Activities Association’s announcement last week ending the 2020 spring sports season echoed that sentiment.
“While the UHSAA staff remains optimistic that fall sports will commence as scheduled, it is still too early to reach any decisions or offer guidance at this time,” read the end of the UHSAA’s statement last week. “The UHSAA staff will continue to monitor any additional information provided by the Governor’s Office and the State Superintendent’s Office as it relates to interscholastic activities.”
However, there are a couple things to watch in the near future that could relate to fall sports beginning on time or not.
Most, if not all, high school fall sports teams have practices, activities or get-togethers during the offseason starting in June.
According to last week’s statement, “Current UHSAA policies prohibiting the use of school facilities and organizing practice and/or team gatherings remain in effect until further notice.”
There’s no indication of whether the UHSAA will issue updated guidelines to that suspension and when, if at all, those guidelines would be issued.
For now, everything’s on hold until people are told otherwise.
If the UHSAA’s suspension continues into June, then fall sports will most likely be affected because teams — football, particularly, because of safety concerns — will have to go into mid-August and early September to make up for a month of lost conditioning and practice time.
Fall sports are still 3-4 months away; however, practice is crucial to make sure athletes are in shape and acclimated to the intense summer heat that persists into August when fall sports begin.
A schedule of postponement could end up on the table at some point. A monthlong football cancellation would, by nature, wipe out the first four weeks of games. In Northern Utah, the first four weeks include the 100th Golden Spike Game between Box Elder and Bear River — the longest uninterrupted series in the state — plus the first two weeks of Region 1 games.
There would also be a financial impact to schools of lost gate revenue, which trickles down and affects more than the school’s coffers alone.
Then there would be a significant impact to the UHSAA financially.
The first football game of every season is called an endowment game, where a percentage of schools’ gate revenue goes to the UHSAA endowment fund.
In 2019, the UHSAA collected $122,022 from 53 endowment games in the state, according to approved minutes from the UHSAA Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 21, 2019.
The money from the endowment fund helps pay the premium for a catastrophic insurance policy which, among other things, helps pay costs for extreme accidents such as paralysis, dismemberment or death that may be suffered during the course of a UHSAA sanctioned activity.
What kinds of things could happen that would provide clarity on a June activity suspension or not?
• Whether or not the state loosens its recommendation to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.
• Whether or not health departments start loosening public health guidelines next month, as they’ve been discussing.
RELATION BETWEEN SCHOOL AND SPORTS
UHSAA assistant director Jon Oglesby made clear that if additional directives, positive or negative, come from Gov. Gary Herbert and State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson that affect public education then, by extension, those directives affect high school sports.
If schools stay closed to in-person learning in the fall, then it’s all but set in stone the UHSAA would follow suit.
It’s what the association did in March when the initial two-week school soft closure was announced, it’s what happened when the soft closure was extended to May 1, and it’s what happened when Herbert and Dickson announced schools were closed to in-person learning for the rest of the school year.
When will the governor issue updated directives on business and school closure? It depends on when the public health climate is at a manageable stage.
When will the public health climate get to that point? Nobody’s totally sure, though many scenarios and projections — that includes the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — see Utah hitting its “peak” of deaths from COVID-19 in late April or early May.
Herbert released an updated version of the Utah Leads Together plan last week, which indicates the state may start gradually loosening restrictions in early May if the health climate allows for it.
The restrictions may gradually unfurl soon enough to allow for schools to reopen to in-person learning on time for next school year.
But there could also be another surge in cases that necessitates reintroduction of strict health measures.