The Virginia High School League is close to finalizing a structure for postseason play for its fall, winter and spring sports seasons that have been smacked down and pushed back by COVID-19.
VHSL executive director Billy Haun would like everyone to remember one thing:
“Normal doesn’t exist anymore.”
Haun made that statement Monday during a video conference that included VHSL staff and 30 members of the league’s Executive Committee.
The VHSL chief presented a proposed athletics postseason calendar for the 2020-21 school year, setting potential dates for region and state competition that Haun is labeling “Championship Plus One.”
The Executive Committee — which is composed primarily of school superintendents, principals and athletic directors from across the state — is expected to finalize a postseason schedule during a meeting Sept. 3.
Pending any potential changes, several items Monday were noteworthy:
- Football teams would have seven “weeks” to play six games, with the first game allowed on Monday, Feb. 22, followed by a second date in the opening week on Saturday, Feb. 27.
- Football would be allowed two weekends for regional playoffs, followed by a state semifinal April 24 and a state final May 1.
- For all team sports other than football, only one team per region would qualify for a state tournament, and the semifinals and finals in some sports would be played at the home site of one of the participating teams if the venue meets VHSL requirements.
- Boys and girls basketball would begin Dec. 21 instead of Dec. 28 with the original restricted limit of 14 regular-season games imposed by the VHSL in July still in effect.
- Any team not qualifying for a regional tournament in any sport could play an “extra” postseason game against another regional non-qualifier.
- The criteria for qualifying for regional postseason play in team sports — including football — would be determined by each region.
- State wrestling tournaments would be limited to eight qualifiers in each weight class and each tournament would be a one-day event.
- Qualifying standards would not be used for outdoor track and field, indoor track and swimming. State meet qualifiers would be limited to the top four regional individual finishers in swimming and outdoor track, and the top three finishers in indoor track.
- District tournaments would be allowed and would not count against a sport’s contest limit.
- Holding a “virtual” state swim meet has been discussed by some coaches and administrators.
- The number of people allowed at any venue, including spectators, would be limited by Virginia’s current Phase III recovery plan from the coronavirus, which currently has a cap of no more than 250 people.
Haun said he plans to lobby Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Health to have more spectators allowed at indoor and outdoor events, regular-season and postseason.
“Once I get some more details, I’m going to set up a meeting with the governor’s office and the [VDH], and I’m going to recommend, ask, push — all three of those words — at minimum we’d be allowed to have a thousand because that’s what the guidelines say for recreation events,” Haun said.
“My first request is going to be 50%[capacity] of the venue that’s hosting the event with social distancing requirements being enforced by our schools. If I get denied there, my second request would be to go to the [1,000].
“Then I guess at that point, we’d fall back to 250.”
Haun said he expects to get plenty of feedback on his proposal to allow some state semifinals and championship games to be played at the site of one of the participants, determined by the VHSL tournament bracket.
The VHSL still hopes to hold its football championship games at its regularly scheduled sites such as Liberty University and Salem Stadium, and it hopes to play its basketball championship games at VCU’s Siegel Center, if those facilities are available.
However, there would be no spring “jubilees” for baseball, lacrosse, soccer and tennis in 2020-21.
With jubilee facilities out of the picture, Haun wants to minimize the chances of using a “third-party” neutral site because of health concerns.
“I know there will be some people and coaches concerned with this one,” Haun said. “They won’t see it as a fair issue to play at the site of the ‘home’ team … but with all the things we have to do to be safe and worry about COVID … people may not be willing to bring in teams that aren’t their own into their facility because of all the extra safety things required.
“So this year we’re recommending that state championships be hosted by teams at the top of the bracket.”
Athletic directors and coaches now must create limited schedules based on the number of regular-season events permitted: basketball (14); volleyball, baseball and softball (12); soccer, tennis and field hockey (10); lacrosse and outdoor track (9); golf and wrestling (8); football, cross country, swimming and indoor track (6); and competition cheer (3).
“People are going to have to pare down their schedules,” Haun said. “So the question comes up, ‘Who do I play? Who do I not play?’ We would like to give that autonomy to the district and the regions.”
However, executive committee member Tammy Newcome, the principal at William Byrd High School, cited a problematic example.
Byrd is a member of the six-team Blue Ridge District, but if the Terriers are required to play Roanoke County rivals Cave Spring and Hidden Valley, who gets dropped from a six-game football schedule or a 12-game volleyball slate?
Haun said all “district decisions relative to scheduling must require the unanimous approval of the district.”
“If districts cannot unanimously approve a district schedule, then I’m suggesting maybe the executive committee would say you would play the last six games on your schedule and that would be your district schedule.
“What we can’t have is a team that gets disadvantaged in the scheduling and they can’t get the number of games they need. There were concerns about people not being able to get a district schedule that was fair.”
The VHSL also is concerned about the availability of officials in some parts of the state.
Haun said two-man basketball officiating crews and four-man crews in football are a real possibility.
“It’s going to be a question mark across the board, across Virginia,” Haun said. “It’s going to be a challenge. There’s absolutely no question about it.”
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