The 2020-2021 high school sports season isn’t going to look like any other in state history.
But there will be sports, at least.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association released Wednesday its plan for the upcoming school year, shortening all sports seasons and shifting some sports in an attempt to give every sport a chance to happen.
Due to the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the first sports will not be played until November, with cross country and volleyball beginning practice Nov. 4 and opening their seasons on Nov. 16.
One of the biggest changes to the calendar is for football, which will now begin practice on Feb. 8 and begin a seven-game season on Feb. 26. The indoor track season has also been cancelled.
The NCHSAA hopes to offer playoffs across all sports, but has yet to make a determination when and if those would be held.
“Please keep in mind that these proposed dates are dependent on COVID-19 conditions improving across NC,” said NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker. “However, last night, the Board of Directors approved a framework we believe maximizes the opportunities for students in our membership to participate in athletics at some point during this school year, regardless of what plan is a school and/or school system operates.”
The Board of Directors approved the amended calendar for the 2020-2021 school year on Tuesday. It calls for:
- Cross country, volleyball: Practice begins Nov. 4, season runs Nov. 1-Jan. 8, maximum of 14 matches (volleyball) and 10 meets
- Basketball: Practice begins Dec. 7, season runs Jan. 4-Feb. 19, maximum of 14 games
- Boys soccer: Practice begins Jan. 11, season runs Jan. 25-March 12, maximum of 14 games
- Football: Practice begins Feb. 8, season runs Feb. 26-April 9, maximum of seven games
- Golf (boys and girls), boys tennis, girls soccer, softball: Practice begins March 1, season runs March 15-April 30, maximum of 14 games
- Baseball, boys tennis, track and field, wrestling: Practice begins April 12, season runs April 26-June 11, maximum of 14 games (baseball, tennis) 14 dual matches (wrestling), 10 meets (track and field)
“We recognize that this is a lot of information to digest and drastically different from the way the sport calendar has been aligned for years in North Carolina,” Tucker said. “However, as we mentioned many weeks ago, ‘We will play again.’
“In that mantra we believe, and it is in that spirit that we present this calendar. It is the belief of the Board of Directors and our staff that this calendar provides us the greatest chance of providing interscholastic athletic opportunities to the students of the NCHSAA for the 2020-2021 academic year. We believe that this is the best path forward to a safe return to the field.”
Other notes from Tucker’s call with media members:
- Whether fans will be allowed to attend sports, and how many, will largely be determined by guidance from state government. “At some point in time the governor is going to have to play a large role in how many people can gather outdoors,” Tucker said. “We won’t be making that decision, but we could certainly participate once we know where the gathering limitations are.”
- On overlapping sports seasons: “We don’t like sports overlapping, but if you look back at any calendar in the history of the NCHSAA, for the most part there’s always an overlapping season,” Tucker said. “We have to make those adjustments, and what I just want to remind everybody is that this is a one-year blip on our radar and that we will have to make some sacrifices.”
- Seasons will moved around several times on Tuesday before the Board of Directors settled on the final proposal. Potential transportation issues with buses played a role in determining where sports were placed on the calendar, Tucker said.
- Wrestling, as of now, will be limited to dual-team matches. Basketball teams will not be allowed to participate in holiday tournaments. There is no NCHSAA rule prohibiting an athlete from playing in multiple sports at the same time.
Tucker also stressed that the plan for the entire season could also be forced to change if the coronavirus pandemic worsens across the state.
“Moving to Phase Three (of the state’s reopening guidelines) is obviously very important, and I think we have to make sure that we keep that on the table,” Tucker said. “It’s important to recognize that the NCHSAA staff and our Board of Directors have no intention of violating the executive orders of our governor.”