On Monday morning, the Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board, at this time, decided not to postpone or cancel the spring championship season.
“At this time,” is the key phrase in the AIA press release. With the information about and restrictions related to COVID-19 seemingly changing by the day, this is an extremely fluid situation.
The release also read: “The decision by this Board is that there will not be any official interscholastic competitions played effective immediately through Saturday, March 28. The earliest possible date for the resumption of competition will be Monday, March 30 unless otherwise notified. However, the association will respect all decisions made by schools and school districts in regard to practices during this time of suspension. Therefore, the AIA will defer to the schools and support their decisions from this standpoint.”
And as AIA executive director David Hines was quick to note in a Monday afternoon phone interview, even a best-case scenario with containment of the coronavirus and return of Arizona schools to class on March 30 does not mean an immediate return to competition.
“We’re not going to pick up competition on the 30th. Kids will not have done anything for a couple of weeks. There’s heat acclimation and there’s needing to get back to practice,” Hines said.
And moving forward, spring sports hinge on the decisions made at higher levels of government. The governor’s office and the state health department have recommended a two-week suspension of school and activities.
If this time frame holds true, it should hopefully not impact postseason tournaments for spring sports. But Hines is well aware that all options are on the table at this point.
“We’re trying to hope for the best and prepare for the worst case scenarios. We didn’t want to take everything off the table now,” Hines said.
He said the AIA plans to meet with conference leadership next Monday, March 23, and talk about processes if student are able to return to school March 30.
Or course, by that time, the decision could be made for them.
“Here’s the worst-case scenario. They come back and say, ‘School’s done,’” Hines said.
If play can resume, but later than early April, numerous variables come into play.
Chief among them is the Sunday, March 15 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommendation that the country cancel all events that gather 50 or more people for eight weeks to stem the spread of the virus.
That period ends May 9, putting the possibility of fan-less baseball, boys volleyball, beach volleyball and softball games, as well as track meets, into play.
“If the CDC says limit crowds to 50 we could say, ‘OK, no spectators,’” Hines said.
All spring sports except boys volleyball are played outdoors, another variable to consider with the coronavirus - though it is too early to gauge how outdoor play and Arizona’s warm spring weather affect spread of the virus.
Hines said if the two-thirds of the regular season can be salvaged - i.e. 12 games of a typical 18-game baseball, softball or boys volleyball season — the state can use its rankings system to seed and set up the playoffs accordingly.
The release also stated that the organization, “will keep all processes in place for postseason tournaments. If the spring championship season extends for any period of time, the AIA will be ready to conduct tournaments in their entirety.”
So tournaments could extend if the school year extends, or even if it does not. Some states, like Colorado, routinely play baseball and softball playoff games in June since their seasons start later.
However that schedule has been built in for years at cold-weather states. Some Arizona high school athletes could run into work or college conflicts if their athletic year extends beyond graduation days.
Plus, the time of day an outdoor playoff game could start in June or July narrows greatly.
“If we were going to push the season back into the summer we would need a consensus from all parties involved. On the flip side, it would only get hotter,” Hines said.
If the season is too short to generate applicable rankings, Hines said the concept of expanded or modified playoffs will be discussed.
A playoff field open to all or most teams could, in effect, replace the regular season. In this case, though, similar problems with the heat will crop up if the postseason continues into summer.
“We’re going to think outside the box, but at the same time we have to be responsible,” Hines said.
Also stated in the press release for the March 16 AIA meeting: