COVID could force SC high schools to shuffle sports schedules. Plan now, league says

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South Carolina High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton is asking schools to be flexible in the event that sports schedules need to be changed because of COVID-19.

The topic of COVID and its effect on the fall sports season was brought up Wednesday during the final day of SCHSL executive committee meetings. The league specifically is asking schools and their respective regions to have a backup plan for determining playoff spots in the event of regular-season cancellations.

Singleton said he will be sending out a memo to the schools on the matter this week.

“We want them to make some decisions before decisions have to be made,” Singleton told The State on Wednesday. “That way it is totally objective. What if everyone doesn’t get to play everyone in the region? How will we determine our region qualifiers? They can get creative and tell us it is. That is why we are asking now, so it doesn’t come down to us making a decision for them.”

The plan applies for all sports, but football is the most challenging because it is only played once a week. And football schedules are typically front-loaded with non-region games with the more-important region games last.

One possible solution could be to move region games to earlier in the schedule like last year. With schedules set and the start of the football regular season two weeks away, however, that might not be a viable option in all cases.

Singleton said he would like to have regions send in back-up plans for determining their playoff qualifiers before region play begins. Region play starts on different weeks on the calendar depending how big each region is.

“We are going to try and get on the front end of this and ask our regions to get together to declare region finishes in the event they aren’t able to do it in the traditional way,” Singleton said. “That something is in place to use as a backup.”

Singleton said the league could intervene in situations as far as extending the season if many schools have to miss contests because of COVID.

On Wednesday, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental reported 2,035 new confirmed or probable cases in the state.

Last fall, S.C. public schools didn’t start playing regular-season games until September with only seven games scheduled, mostly against region opponents. Playoffs were shortened so teams would be able to make up games if needed. The S.C. Independent Schools Association played a normal season with limited interruptions.

According to the SCHSL, 10% to 12% of football games were either canceled or postponed last season, including the Class 2A football championship between Marion and Abbeville. The game was played two weeks after the scheduled date because of COVID-19 issues within the Marion football team.

This year teams are back playing 10-game schedules, and playoffs are back to 32 teams per classification as in previous years. As of now, there isn’t likely to be any restriction on attendance at games this year, but Singleton that decision, as well as if masks would be required for spectators at games, would be left up to each individual school district.

Practice around the state officially started Friday and some teams already have had shutdowns.

In the Midlands, Fairfield Central’s football team is shut down until Aug. 14 and won’t be able to play its three scrimmages, according to coach Demetrius Davis. AC Flora football won’t play in a four-team scrimmage on Thursday because of COVID precautions but hasn’t been quarantined yet. The Falcons’ next scrimmage is scheduled for Monday at Camden’s Bulldog Bash.

According to WCIV’s Scott Eisberg, Charleston area high school football teams at West Ashley, Wando, Bishop England and Cross all are shut down. Loris and St. James football teams also are in quarantine, according to My Horry News, and won’t be able to conduct any preseason scrimmages.

Of 11 high school football coaches who were allowed to answer COVID-related questions from The State anonymously, four coaches said they have encouraged their team to get the COVID vaccine. Eight coaches said their teams would use social distancing at practices and offer sanitizer or hand-washing stations. Two coaches who responded to The State’s questions said no safety precautions were planned.

Hawaii is the only state so far to push back the start of its high school football season. According to Hawaii News Now, the state’s Department of Education announced Wednesday it will delay all high school sports until late September while implementing a mandate that requires student-athletes and coaches get vaccinated.

Hawaii was one of three states that didn’t play football last year. Its season was supposed to begin this weekend.

Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts talked to his team at the end of Wednesday’s practice about staying safe and practicing good habits against the virus.

“I’m vaccinated but I am going to proceed as if COVID can get me and be very careful and I hope my players can proceed like that as well,” said Knotts, whose team scrimmages Spartanburg on Thursday.

The first regular season contests begin on Aug. 19-21 in South Carolina. Each team gets to have three preseason scrimmages.

The SCHSL executive committee voted Wednesday that any region game canceled because of COVID would be counted as a no contest — and not a forfeit — so it wouldn’t affect region standings. If a non-region game is canceled, then the contract would be voided and not have to pay the other school.

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