During a special meeting Aug. 5 the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Executive Board approved a fall 2020 high school athletics calendar.
This list of revised start dates for practice and competition, as well as state championship events, was the product of meetings with the executive board, associated committees and correspondence with member schools — including a survey on returning to play.
As the AIA was quick to point out in its Aug. 5 press release, that the resumption of athletics and activities are subject to change based upon changes to national, state or local guidelines, or government directives.
“The health and safety of our student participants, coaches, officials and essential personnel, including volunteers, is the primary concern for the return of interscholastic athletics and activities,” stated AIA Executive Director David Hines in the release. “We are very grateful to those who share our commitment of a return to these highly beneficial educational activities and athletics.”
The board voted for a phase-in, or staggered, beginning of fall sports. The start dates of each sport were identified based on information received from member schools regarding student and personnel safety, and what is most easily administered by athletic directors and coaches.
Brad Cesmat of Sports360AZ reported on Twitter that 251 of 279 AIA school surveyed responded by the deadline, and the consensus from those surveys helped set start dates for practice and games. For example, a majority of those surveyed asked for Sept. 7 as the first day in football helmets and Oct. 2 as the first Friday Night Lights.
“We owe it to our members to provide a direction,” stated board President and Safford High Athletic Director Toni Corona. “It may be challenging to get everything going for all the schools at one time but with good communication, we can provide the best possible experience for our students in this unprecedented time. This board and the AIA staff will continue to provide information and guidelines as we proceed.”
In a video produced by the AIA July 30, Hines stated fall sports schedules could be as uneven as school and practice start times.
"If a school chooses that they would like to participate in fall activities but they prefer to wait another week or two or three, we will work to accommodate that school. And maybe an area of schools or group of schools that are in that same boat, to be able to schedule games so they could help get some competition. There are a minimum number of games that would need to be played to qualify for state tournament play,” Hines said in the video.
The new fall sports timeline is as follows:
• First practice – Aug. 17
• First competition – Aug. 24
• Championships – Oct. 26-29 (Div. I), Nov. 2-5 (Div. II)
• First Practice – Aug. 24
• First Competition – Sept. 9
• Championships – Nov. 12-13
Swimming & Diving
•First Practice – Aug. 24
• First Competition – Sept. 14
• Championships – Nov. 5-7
• First Practice – Aug. 31
• First Competition – Sept. 14
• Championships – Nov. 7 (Individuals), Nov. 9-12 (Teams)
First Practice – Aug. 31
First Competition – Sept. 21
Championships – Nov. 12-21
First Practice – Sept. 7
First Competition – Sept. 30-Oct. 3
Championships – Dec. 11/12 (4A-6A & Open)*
* The 1A-3A conferences currently are discussing possibilities for length of their regular seasons and when to hold state championships.
AIA Sports Information Coordinator Seth Polansky stated in an email interview that pushing back championship dates — in particular for girls volleyball and football — has not been part of the discussion so far. Just like with everything else, he stated, the AIA can address this as it arises.
The truncated football season may only allow for eight-team football playoff brackets, unless conferences decide to sacrifice a week of the regular season. The minimum number of contests to qualify for the postseason, regular season maximums, region tournaments and all postseason qualifying procedures will be determined by region and conference committees in the coming weeks.
“It is ultimately up to the committees to decide how to handle the postseason. With the amount of time we have to play, having eight-team brackets for football would make the most sense, based on our current timeline,” Polansky said. “The availability of having a play-in round would be on the table for conferences to consider, but that would eliminate a regular season game. And as of right now, the playoff structure for all other sports could be played as they traditionally have.”
If this timeline succeeds, football will start the regular season six weeks after the originally planned date of Aug. 17. By comparison golf is pushed back one week, badminton, cross country, swimming and diving and volleyball moved back two weeks.
This simple math will make football schedules the most difficult to revise.
“Football might be the hardest to reschedule. The other sports might not be so bad. But with football, there could be a number of factors,” Polansky stated. “Those include restrictions placed on teams traveling out of their county, cross-conference games scrapped in favor of intra-conference games, number of schools per region accounting for a mandatory number of games to be played…and the list goes on. It is going to be a daunting task on the conference committees to go back to the table and redraw schedules based on fewer games allotted and potential restrictions.”
The board also approved the winter season to begin one week later than normal.