Thomas Ranson: A glimpse in how fall sports could look like
In less than a month, student-athletes and coaches report to their respective campuses to begin fall sports.
But unlike the previous seasons, this one will be much different as the country struggles to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled spring sports in mid-March and is threatening to inflict similar damage to begin the school year.
No decisions have been made on the fall season although more information may be revealed in the next week. Fall sports practice begins in three weeks and the state’s directive on Phase 2 ends at the end of the month. Will Nevada be ready to move to the next phase, or will it defer to the counties to determine whether it’s ready for the next phase?
With the numbers climbing this month, mainly in Washoe and Clark counties, I expect to see cases slowly decrease because of the mask mandate put in.
The positivity rate needs to decline for 14 straight days for Nevada to move into Phase 3, which should allow for all but football to compete in front of spectators this fall. The state needs to extend deeper in Phase 3 for football to be considered. It may seem like a long shot that football will return this fall, but if the state’s rate continues to decline, then we’ll be seeing pigskins flying through the uprights. Again, if the state defers to the counties, we may see the rural high schools compete against each other sooner.
The season will look different. By ensuring proper health and safety measures are in place, sports will happen but in a limited capacity. From reduced crowds to potentially eliminating lower level competition, this is how the fall season could look as Fallon and Oasis Academy begins practices next month.
Known for a slew of grilled deliciousness, including the tri-tip sandwich, the Fallon Quarterback Club offers a variety of concessions on Friday nights during the fall.
With the pandemic, though, changes would need to be made, including switching out condiment bottles for packets. The lines, especially during halftime, naturally, can get long and extend out to the south side of the Fallon bleachers. Throw in the 6-foot rule for social distancing and the line gets even bigger, unless the football program invests in an online option to pre-order concessions. But can that unexpected cost be justified?
If football finds a way to happen, even if it’s only for a couple of home games, is it worth having concessions or would the better option be to allow outside food, which isn’t currently permitted.
For other sports, Fallon needs to worry about volleyball and soccer because tennis, cross country and girls golf don’t have concessions; instead, spectators can bring their own. Oasis Academy, which competes only in volleyball, golf and cross country, uses the city-county gym.
Like football, concessions in the Elmo Dericco Gymnasium for volleyball matches would follow the same protocol. Lines could get big, but is it worth having the snack bar open? It would depend on how much the school is able to bring in during volleyball games, especially if it’s only varsity playing (more on that later). With crowds not coming close to capacity, having the snack bar open would not be worth the hassle, and the volleyball program would need to find another way to recover that cost.
Ultimately, it boils down to determining whether the revenue lost by not having concessions can be recovered in another manner. If you can have concessions, can you do it safely and will it be worth the hassle? If the proper measures are in place, like social distancing and making sure all or most of the food is handled by the booster clubs, then having the concession open will be fine.
Will there be lower level competition?
Along with the safety measures needed to ensure fall sports can happen, budgets and time must be considered.
Schools can eliminate a chunk of the costs by limiting competitions to varsity only. They would save money not paying officials to oversee the junior varsity and freshman games in football, volleyball and soccer (just JV). Furthermore, schools can cut the season in half by having football games every other week (or every week until mid-October), and volleyball and soccer games once per week. It will save in transportation costs, especially since social distancing is needed on buses or vans for the smaller sports, like tennis, cross country and golf. Instead of needing three buses for a football trip to Elko, for example, schools would need twice that amount: two each for freshman, JV and varsity.
But if you eliminate the lower level games, do you still field those teams or expand your varsity teams to allow the program a surplus in the event of a player testing positive or getting injured? Just as important as safety, lower level teams need to still be fielded for the players to continue developing and interacting among their peers. Instead of having a regular season, put on a couple tournaments to give them a chance to compete.
It makes sense to limit competition to only varsity to save costs on officials and transportation; however, in addition to accommodating the pandemic guidelines, it is also important for these high schoolers to be able to participate in the lower levels, even if it means a heavily reduced game schedule.
Of all the sports, football brings in the biggest crowd but even with social distancing, it’s not impossible to reduce the capacity to 50%.
Some options to help adhere to this guideline include roping off every other row, blocking out 6×6-foot sections in the bleachers, and moving the band to a temporary bleacher set behind either end zone. Thankfully for Fallon – most schools are not as lucky – fans who can’t make it in are able to tune into the radio for the live broadcast. Having the live video stream available would help ease this inconvenience.
Determining who gets admitted into the stadium is the bigger problem. Do you give players for both teams a set amount of tickets for each game and the rest of the limited capacity is filled first come, first serve? The focus should be on the players’ families, business partners and sponsors, students and then everyone else.
What about coaches being allowed in the press box? Coaches may not be able to view from the press box because of a lack of social distancing and to be fair to both teams, none should be allowed, which means all coaches would be on the sideline.
Volleyball faces a similar problem and will need to reduce capacity in the gym to 50%, which is doable. By extending the bleachers on the north side, it will allow the school to rope off areas like the football bleachers.
The Bighorns would have a tougher time because gym capacity is already limited; it’s not even half the size of the Greenwave’s gym. Again, who gets in is the biggest question mark.
Soccer, cross country, girls golf and tennis have been good about spacing fans out and there shouldn’t be any issues with social distance unless there’s a postseason, which draws larger crowds.
Safety measures and financial impact
With no question, hand sanitizer must be available throughout the venues. Disinfectant will be in abundance to make sure frequently touched surfaces and equipment are cleaned.
Don’t be surprised if you’re required to wear a mask, and these should be available for those who don’t bring one. Masks will be required for players and coaches.
Will cheer need to wear masks (they yell a lot)? What about band in between songs? Don’t forget about the officials, too. Will they need to wear masks and if so, how do you compensate for needing whistle? Air horn?
The school is going to lose money because of the limited capacity, but the goal should be to limit this loss as much as possible. Do you increase the ticket cost or rely on help from the community to pitch in few bucks? The school will need the community’s help and support to navigate through this unprecedented event.
Above everything, including costs, is the health and safety of all involved. From the players to the officials to the fans, it’s paramount to ensure that the environment is the safest possible. The last thing that anyone wants to witness is an infection that hospitalizes – or kills – a player, coach or official.
Sports and extracurricular activities, like instruction in the classroom, are important to a student’s well-being. But it’s not just the students. The parents, coaches, officials, sponsors and fans deserve this opportunity but in the safest manner possible.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.