by Paul Kennedy
States are all across in map in terms of how they are handling fall high school sports in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At one end of the spectrum, eight states plus the District of Columbia have moved boys or girls soccer from the fall to 2021. But eight other states have already begun their fall soccer season.
Then there are 17 other states still planning on playing soccer this fall. Some plan on starting this week, but others still have not finalized start dates.
The position that a state -- the state high school association or governor's office -- takes on soccer and other fall sports has often depended on the risk levels that are attributed to each sport.
In Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota, plans for soccer to be played in the fall are going ahead while "high risk" football has been moved into 2021. Vermont plans on having soccer in the fall, but will make football a 7-a-side sport, arguing that the most vulnerable athletes are linesmen at the line of scrimmage. In New Jersey, soccer and football will be played in the fall while girls volleyball, considered a higher risk because it is played indoors, will move to 2021.
The decision on whether to go ahead with fall sports has often come down to the guidance of a state's governor on its return to play protocols for sports generally.
On Monday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo gave the green light for soccer as well as tennis, cross county, field hockey and swimming -- all considered lower-risk sports by the state -- to begin practice and play games on Sept. 21 while sports deemed to be "high risk" — including football and volleyball -- can still only conduct non-contact practices.
The decision on high school sports has become a huge political issue in many states.
Pennsylvania governor Andrew Cuomo's “strong recommendation” was to not play competitive sports before the end of 2020. The Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association, one of the largest youth soccer organizations in the country, decided to go ahead with fall activities, as did the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, whose board of directors voted 25-5 on Friday to go ahead with fall sports.
On Monday, Kentucky governor Andy Beshear announced he would not overturn the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s decision to start fall sports next month, putting the onus of local school officials to enforce COVID-19 protocols.
“We’re not going to overturn that decision,” he said, “and it’s not because I think it’s a good decision or a wise decision. But if we’re going to defeat this virus, we need people other than me, all over Kentucky, taking responsibility to make good and wise decisions. We can’t be making every decision for what’s best for folks out of the governor’s office. It’s going to be incumbent on superintendents, on coaches, on the different groups to make the wisest decisions that they can.”
In Ohio, where a Warren County judge granted a preliminary injunction (backed by operators of local sports complexes) against the Department of Health to prevent it from treating contact sports differently from non-contact sports, fall sports started on Friday but with restrictions on fans.
"If it goes off the rails," Ohio governor Mike DeWine said, "don’t doubt that we’ll step in."
Many school districts have already decided to forego fall sports, including Philadelphia's Public League and Catholic League.
In Kansas, Kansas City Public Schools and Wichita Public Schools have shut down sports for the fall. To support those schools in Kansas City and Wichita and others that won't play in the fall, the Kansas State High School Activities Association gave tentative approval on Monday for an alternative season plan for fall sport, including boys soccer.