GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Come Friday, the Sunshine State should hopefully an answer to what the future of fall high school athletics will look like and potentially for the rest of the 2020-2021 academic year if other options are considered while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit Florida.

With this most likely being the most important single decision resting on the shoulders of the 16-member Florida High School Athletic Association Board of Directors in the association’s 100-year history, it is clear that no single decision will make everyone in the Sunshine State happy.

As such, we preview what is how we got to this point, what has been going on, and a look at the options on the table for Friday that will be in front of the FHSAA Board of Directors

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HOW WE GOT TO FRIDAY’S MEETING

We go back to June’s FHSAA Board of Director’s meeting to get a sense to where and how it got us here to this point in the process of what would happen with fall sports overall.

In that meeting back on June 9, President-Elect, now FHSAA Board President Lauren Otero, Assistant Principal, Administration at Plant High School in Tampa requested a task force be formed regarding fall sports and any possible changes to the FHSAA Calendar.

As such, two weeks later, the first of three Fall Sports Task Force meetings were held via Zoom with a group of selected athletic directors, officials, and doctors that came together to discuss ideas and thoughts regarding different parts of the state regarding COVID-19.

While nothing was determined in the first meeting, some options were brought to the table at the second meeting with a discussion of a plan by Justin Harrison, FHSAA Associate Executive Director of Administrative Services that would have allowed schools and school districts to choose one of four options with the earliest start date being the original July 27 start date for fall sports practices that were set on the FHSAA 2020-2021 calendar.

The second meeting did end with the task force recommending pushing back the start of the fall sports season by two weeks to August 10.

By the third meeting, the plan from the FHSAA was reduced down to three option with the task force officially recommending pushing back the start date as recommended from the second meeting, but also recommending the FHSAA plan to the Board of Directors.

However, that plan would be all for not.

On the July 20 meeting of the FHSAA Board of Directors meeting held via Zoom, the FHSAA Board of Directors followed along with the recommendations of FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn, who had been steadfast that the plan among the FHSAA staff was to keep the calendar as business as usual, to not approve the plan by voting it down 16-0.

That vote came on the heels of having a report read from the FHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee that recommended an indefinite delay to the start of football and volleyball season which was voted on 14-2 to have that report read while thousands watched across Zoom and YouTube.

RECOMMENDED: FHSAA SMAC Committee Report on Fall Sports from July 19

As such, the vote triggered off several hours of discussions and trying to formulate what was to happen to the start of fall high school sports.

In the end, recent past FHSAA Board President and board member Bobby Johns, Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at Wewahitchka High School made a motion to keep the calendar as is with the start date of July 27 if schools wish to start and others could join at a later date. The motion also had added that it would allow teams to past the regular season end date and during the state series.

That motioned passed 10-5.

However, with all of that, that vote would become an afterthought just 72 hours later when the FHSAA Board of Directors reconvened for another emergency meeting to review and potentially vote on the recommendations from SMAC.

In that meeting on July 23, a motion made by Douglas Dodd, who represents Sections 1-2 School Boards, as a member of the Citrus County School Board, made a motion to temporarily postpone all fall sports until August 24th, allowing conditioning to continue while directing FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn to work with SMAC and present a plan at the in-person Board of Directors Meeting.

That motion passed 11-4, effectively reversing the vote from the previous meeting.

THE OPTIONS

Since after that meeting, the FHSAA laid out three options that each fall sports committee would get to review and would eventually be presented to the Board of Directors to review.

Those reviews came last week across all six of the fall sports that are impacted.

Now while each sport was presented Options based upon their sport, for the basis of this report we will focus on football since this is our primary focus.

You can view each Option by clicking the link under each option.

Option 1

View Option 1 Plan

Option 1 presented a plan to keep the August 24th start date with games starting the week of September 7, putting most games to start on Friday, September 11, with Week 3 games on the schedule, if any team were to hold on to their current Week 3 opponent) but also pushing the season end week back by one week to have it end on November 6 instead of October 30.

In this plan Kickoff Classic, Week 1, and Week 2 games would be outright canceled. Also, the FHSAA noted on the plan that if a county has restricted travel to county-only, they would be required to notify the FHSAA and opposing schools on the schedule regarding this issue.

However, when the FHSAA released the agenda today, it appears that Week 2 games would appear to be saved with the first allowable game to be set for September 4 instead.

Another change in the Option 1 plan would mean no district games and the current classifications, districts, and regions would all be abolished and allowing teams to instead commit to the state series by an October 12 date and the classifications redrawn after that date. It would continue with the current FHSAA rule of splitting the smallest 1/3 of the schools in Class 2A through Class 4A, while the Largest 2/3 of the schools going to Classes 5A to 8A. Class 1A Rural would remain unchanged with this plan.

And with all teams that commit to the State Series, all teams would earn a playoff spot.

As such, all teams that earn a playoff spot would be broken down by region with the playoff seeds being determined by a blind draw and home teams would be determined with a coin flip. Now if more than 8 teams per region for Class 1A-4A  or more than 16 teams per region in Class 5A-8A, the Week 11 game would become a play-in State Series game, although it is unclear how that would work.

It should also be noted that if a team is currently independent, they will remain independent and teams that opt out of the State Series or lost in the first three round of the playoffs, they may play games up to Saturday, December 5, which would allow teams to make up games to get to a 10-game total.

Option 2

NOTE: We mention this option as it was considered, but it will be not presented as an option to be considered at the meeting.

This plan would start the first day of practice after August, meaning September at the earliest with the first regular-season date coming two weeks after the first practice date. It would put the last regular-season date on November 28, which would be Thanksgiving weekend.

The plan here would eliminate the FHSAA State Series and would instead allow for regional or local FHSAA Tournaments and Events between November 30 and December 12.

In this plan, schools could keep games on the current schedule or reschedule games but does not do much of anything else.

Option 3A

View Option 3A Plan

The most drastic and radical option is the one involving drastically reducing sports seasons for all FHSAA sports and realigning some sports among three different sports seasons.

The plan as presented to the fall sports committees would start Season One, which would include football, would start practices on November 30 with first games starting December 14 and lasting through January 23. Season Two would start February 15, 2021, and Season 3 starting April 26, 2021.

However, as we mentioned in Option One, the FHSAA has now moved the first regular-season date up to December 11 under this plan.

Each of these options would work to keep the current format of the FHSAA state series or adjustments from the advancement committee and FHSAA Staff.

Option 3B

View Option 3B Plan

This option evolves out of some suggestions from the SMAC committee which we discuss some of the outcomes of that meeting below in what the committees said.

With this option, it would allow sports to start sooner than the Option 3A plan with a start date of October 12 with the first regular-season game date coming as early as October 23 which would be the current Week 10 if the 2020 season would have started normally.

As noted in this plan, SMAC said this plan would allow for schools to begin and allow the committee to review current trends on COVID positivity rates to determine if the October 12 start date would be appropriate. If it were to be determined that the start date is inappropriate, SMAC would continue to review positivity rates every two weeks and once rate and trend is appropriate, the sports season would begin two weeks after that date.

WHAT THE SPORTS COMMITTEES SAID

About two weeks ago, the FHSAA Fall Sports Committees meet regarding the options as mentioned above (again all sports had an Option One, but we have not seen all of them and how closely they mirror football).

Again, since we focus on football, we will focus exactly on what the Football Advisory Committee voted on.

As such, the Football Advisory Committee voted 9-0 to adopt Option One as the plan. However, a source close to FloridaHSFootball.com told us that other committees involving fall sports had a wide-ranging of votes regarding which of the options they would like to adopt and see the Board of Directors consider.

Last week, the Athletic Directors Advisory Committee meet and discussed all the options and reviewed what all the committees voted upon in regards to the options.

According, to FloridaHSFootball.com sources in what was non-binding and an unofficial vote which was taken among the 15-member committee.

  • Option 3 was 1st choice by 8 of the ADAC members
  • Option 1 was the 1st choice by 7 of the members
  • Combined vote Option 3 was the first or second choice by 13 of the ADAC members
  • Options 1 & 2 were the first or second choice by 8 of the ADAC members.
  • Option 2 did not have very much support as an option that was considered.

With that, the vote was leaning towards more of an Option Three was in consideration with Option One remarkably close in support with Option Two not even on the radar or support of the ADAC.

WITHDRAWAL THREATS

View M-DCPS Agenda Item H-9

With all of this going on, one county put the FHSAA on notice that they would consider withdrawing all of its schools from the association as a result of the votes.

Dr. Steve Gallon III, Vice-Chair of the Miami-Dade County School Board came out on social media the following day after the July 20th FHSAA Board of Directors vote that he would place an agenda item on the school board’s next meeting on August 12.

Some of the things cited in the agenda item included:

“A need to review M-DCPS’ relationship with the FHSAA has been raised as a result of their decision regarding schools’ start day for fall sports in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which has broken records of confirmed cases in Florida, and a recent dramatic spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases —placing it among the highest in the nation. Miami-Dade County would lead the state in these numbers as Florida would break U.S. state records with 15,300. Miami-Dade County leading with a staggering 67,713 total confirmed cases with a positivity rate exceeding 28 percent.

Despite FHSAA’s obligation to consider the health, welfare, safety, and fair and equitable participation of students throughout the entire state, at its meeting of July 20, 2020, its board would vote 10-5 to “protect” and maintain its original fall sports calendar with a start date of July 27, 2020. This decision went against the recommendations of its own established Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) that recommended an extension due to rise on COVID-19 cases in the southern part of the state.

This decision would also give rise to increasing concerns from school districts across the state such as those in South Florida and Central Florida as well as districts in the Tampa Bay area, Southwest Florida, Duval County, Marion County and Northwest Florida counties Escambia, Santa Rosa and Leon.”

As such, according to Colleen Wright at the Miami Herald, the school board unanimously voted for the bill. However, Colleen said the school board actually wants to collaborate with them before making a final decision to go forward on such a move.

https://twitter.com/Colleen_Wright/status/1293654437450387463

There have been rumblings of other counties around the state threatening to withdraw from FHSAA membership, but nothing as of substantial of substance as what Miami-Dade County has done up to this point.

#WeWantToPlay MOVEMENT

Inspired by the college football level movement with the #WeWantToPlay movement, Jaydon Hodge, a Class of 2022 Safety at Forest High School in Ocala, took to Twitter with a message for student-athletes, coaches and most importantly the FHSAA when he tweeted the message below with this graphic that has since circulated around Twitter in the Florida high school football ranks:

That tweet then sparked off a petition from Jaime Kent, the father of Tampa Cambridge Christian middle linebacker Noah Kent, according to Bob Putnam at Prime Time Preps, a Tampa Bay-based prep sports website.

We reached out to Hodge, who spoke to FloridaHSFootball.com regarding why sparked the movement on #WeWantToPlay in Florida:

“What inspired me to start the FHSAA #WeWantToPlay was most definitely the senior’s all across the state with zero scholarship offers. I have some seniors on my team that is depending on this year especially to receive a scholarship from a school no matter if it’s D1, D2, D3, NAIA, or even JUCO. They just want this season to earn any amount of percentage of their college paid for whether it’s 10% or 100% to further their academic/athletic careers to the next level.

It is extremely important that we stay with Option 1 starting on August 24th as planned. It gives the seniors enough time to get evaluated by many different schools and most importantly it gives them enough time to play their last year of high school efficiently. There have been talks about The FHSAA pushing back the start date and going forward with Option 3 starting November 30th. We cannot go forward with this as some of our seniors’ sign and enroll in college early in December, so that means that they will not be able to play and would be missing out on their final year of high school football.

We’re sending the message that #WeWantToPlay On August 24th, we’re just waiting on the answer,” Hodge said.

Following up, we asked Hodge about his thoughts regarding student-athletes in South Florida, where it may not be possible to have a season until much later in the school year and he had this to say:

“Yes, I’ve been concerned about them but I feel like if South Florida keeps following the right COVID protocols in place to continue having a safe workout and practice environment then they could have the possibility of playing and I’ve talked to multiple South Florida athletes about this same situation and they completely agree that if they follow the proper COVID protocols strictly they could play this season. By proper COVID protocols I mean temperature checks every day before entering the field house/weight room, wearing a mask while working out inside and outside, while inside no more than three student-athletes to a squat rack, bench bar, and power clean station, spray the bars before, and after a student-athlete uses it with disinfectant and when finished with the weight room make sure all weights, bars, benches, and floors are sprayed thoroughly,” Hodge said.

And finally, I asked Hodge his thoughts if the season starts and then randomly stops and told me “I know there is a possibility that the season might start and then randomly stop, but the amount of film the seniors have whether it’s from one game, two games or all the games makes a huge difference in whether they’re going to get evaluated to receive a scholarship to further their academic/athletic careers to the next level,” Hodge said.

As such, coaches also chimed in with their thoughts behind the #WeWantToPlay Movement, and here is what they had to say:

“I fully believe that parents should have the choice just as they do with their kids’ education. They have the brick and mortar option or virtual option. If a parent says their child can play sports or participate in extracurricular activities, then they should be able to. They also have the option to opt-out if they feel like that is their best option. I think the petition speaks for itself and how parents feel about it. We have not had anybody opt-out of workouts for any extracurricular activities this summer. That tells me exactly where the parents want their kids. We have protocols in place to keeps our young people as safe as possible and the parents here seek to be very secure in those protocols and our belief in the safety of our kids is paramount,” Madison County Head Coach, Mike Coe said.

And more of those similar thoughts trickled down from other parts of the state including that from new Winter Garden West Orange Head Coach Mike Granato.

“High school football is about more than a scoreboard. It is about more than just that moment that supposedly defines us on Friday nights. The world seems to be telling us not to be together. We take away sports and will be extremely difficult to continue to fight to break down the barriers that have taken centuries to break down. Kids and coaches from all walks of life come together on a field, a court, or a course to put differences aside and learn to work and serve one another for a purpose greater than themselves. And find out they are not so different in the first place. That is what sports does for the communities around the country. The effects of possibly not playing are already setting in. Kids are not happy and while coaches and parents fight to keep their spirits up, we keep hearing about what we aren’t allowed to do…together. We want to be…together. We want to work together. We want to play…together,” Granato said.

However, some South Florida coaches said that there needs to be more than just one option for the entire state from the FHSAA and that was expressed greatly by Ariel Cribeiro, Head Coach at Miami Goleman.

“In regard to the petition, I believe students deserve a season. The FHSAA needs to look at regional options, not every part of the state is at the same point in this pandemic. Flexibility should be key and we should not put a hard end date for a season. In Miami-Dade County, it would be completely irresponsible to have athletics while we can’t even attend school in person. Maybe for us, our window to play is January thru April. Maybe for parts of the Panhandle, their window to play is now. Flexible options allow for both constituencies to be happy,” Cribeiro said.

In all the message is clear that players want to play and the coaches want to play, as evident in this video Tweet from Starke Bradford, which is lead by Head Coach Brian Tomlinson.

As for the petition? It has nearly 35,000 signatures as of the publication of this article on Wednesday night.

WHAT DOES SMAC SAY?

As such, the FHSAA SMAC committee weighed in once again to the issue if high school sports for the fall can resume or not.

If you sense dark clouds on what they have to say, you would be right.

In a meeting on August 10, SMAC reviewed the season Options for the 2020-2021 school year, with the recommendation that a delay of the Fall sports season beyond August 24 in order to evaluate crucial data of COVID-19 3-4 weeks after schools opened.

In the report, SMAC said that only four of 67 counties had opened for classes as of August 10 when the report was written from the meeting.

However, it also should be noted that SMAC is in favor of Option 3 because of the additional time it would provide both schools and the FHSAA Staff to be ready for the season, as well as the SMAC for them for further evaluate epidemiologic data of COVID-19 after schools opened.

The also stated that Option 3 presents the greatest likelihood for a complete season, although condensed, occur for ALL sports without disruption.

At this time more than half the counties in Florida are slated to open the school year on August 24 or dates later up and until through August 31, the latest possible date a school district may open in Florida.

You can read the full SMAC report from August 10 here.

POLITICAL INFLUENCE

We must not forget the political influence that will certainly be considered in terms of what decision is going to come about on Friday.

Both Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio, the Senior Senator from Florida in the United States Senate have both advocated that the August 24th start date be the day that fall practices start for fall sports around the state.

On Tuesday, Governor Ron DeSantis told people attending a roundtable session on sports at Florida State University stated in a recorded clip that he is in support of the August 24.

However, last week Rubio sent a letter to Governor DeSantis regarding high school athletics which was also sent to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Tomyn, and to the FHSAA Board of Directors.

The letter outlined ways high school football could be played and how some of the recommendations could also be applied to other sports, as well as ways for testing to take place and how to follow those recommendations.

You can read the full letter from Senator Rubio here.

WHERE DOES TOMYN & THE BOARD STAND?

As it stands now FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn is recommending approval of the Option 1 plan as presented to the Board of Directors and allows the ball to get rolling for the Fall sports season.

Tomyn is also recommending approval of an agenda item that will allow a school to request approval from the Executive Director to set aside requirements of Bylaw 8.8.1 in order to start practice earlier than the established date for a specific sport.

For that approval to happen four requirements would have to be met:

  1. The start date for a given sport season is delayed statewide for more than four weeks in comparison to the originally established date.
  2. The school agrees to complete its season by the end of the regular season of the originally established calendar for that sport.
  3. The school will not compete in that sport outside of the originally established season.
  4. The school agrees to withdraw from the State Series in that specific sport.

You can read more regarding this agenda action item regarding the approval setting aside Bylaw 8.8.1 here.

Tomyn will also present a proposed Consent and Release from Liability Certificate for COVID-19 which would be incorporated into the current EL3 packet that student-athletes must fill out on an annual basis. You can view the form here.

As for the Board of Directors and where the vote could stand at for any option on the table is anyone’s guess and one that anyone could not and should not begin to guess.

HOW TO BE INVOLVED IN THE MEETING

You can be involved in the upcoming FHSAA Board of Directors meeting through these various methods which will start at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday:

  • Attend in person at the meeting being held at the Best Western Gateway Grand in Gainesville located at 4200 NW 97th Blvd in Gainesville. It should be noted that there is strict enforcement of groups of 50 or more people per current Alachua County ordinances and as such capacity will be very limited and strictly enforced while following State, Local, and CDC guidelines. Public input will be accepted in-person, through sign-up on-site prior to the meeting.
  • Watch the meeting online at NFHS Network via live stream, for free. No subscription is required to watch the meeting. To submit a question to the FHSAA Board of Directors, questions may be submitted through 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday by emailing those questions to questions@fhsaa.org.