The AHSAA announced on Wednesday, July 22 that they are moving ahead with the fall sports season with a “Return to Play” plan that will not delay things this season like many states have done in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The central board met Wednesday to officially discuss and vote on the return to play and best practices.

“The purpose of the Return to Play document is to offer AHSAA member schools best practices in order to commence the 2020-21 school year athletic seasons as scheduled and as safely as possible,” said Savarese in the press release.

According to the release fall sports teams have the option to begin fall workouts on July 27 with the first week used by football for acclimation purposes only with helmets and shorts only. The other fall sports such as volleyball, cross country and swimming and diving can use the first week for acclimation and tryouts. Schools not choosing that option may start fall practice on August 3.

The first official contests can take place on Thursday, August 20.

Local school districts can modify their return to play should they want to, the July 27 start has always just been the earliest a team can return to practice. Also, all students can participate, it doesn’t matter if they are learning virtually from home, full time in person or a mix of the two. Different schools are doing different ways of learning to start the year.

Band and cheerleaders are deemed “essential” and may travel to all home and away contests, and there is no limitation on fans and attendance. However, while the AHSAA won’t control fans and attendance, local schools can decide on their own rules during the regular season.

The AHSAA also approved a request to postpone the instant replay experiment until 2021 as a result of COVID-19 and discussed contingency plans for championships, but those plans were not released.

Best Practices

On Thursday afternoon, AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese held a press conference to go over the plan to play this fall.

First, here are various rule changes from the NFHS for how football will operate.

Second, here is the “Best Practices” handbook from the AHSAA For the return to play for fall 2020. There is a large FAQ portion at the end that answers many questions.

Some highlights that we pulled to answer widely asked questions:

– No restrictions on out-of-state games from the AHSAA.

– No restrictions on bands/cheerleaders from the AHSAA.

– All attendance rules (and who is allowed on the sidelines) are up to the schools, but equal access must be given to the visiting team and should follow the CDC, ADPH and local health guidelines.

– Forfeits/broken contest contracts due to COVID will count as a loss, but if the team that got a win replaces the game, then they won’t get the free win anymore. However, no fines will be assessed.

– While virtual students are allowed to play based on AHSAA rules, local school systems can technically make their own rules on athletic participation.

– If there is a shutdown again, the season will end.

– Contingency plans for all fall sports have been developed and will be discussed at the October board meeting.

– If a varsity player opts to transfer due to their school not playing, they still have to follow all transfer rules, no special COVID rules.

– The AHSAA said they were heavily advised to not play football in the spring and then again the fall of the same year due to safety and health reasons.

– No one is forced to wear masks, but it’s highly suggested, especially if you can’t keep 6 feet apart.

– Host schools are responsible for providing a clean environment for all visiting teams.

– Sideline boxes will be shifted from the 25-yard-line to the 10-yard-line.

– Handshakes during the coin toss, pregame and postgame are suspended.

Meanwhile, many other states have made changes to their schedule – some minor and some drastic. Here is where every state is currently:

Alabama – On schedule for August 20

Arizona – Regular season postponed until September 11

California – Fall season pushed to start in December 2020 or January 2021, although the Northern Section (73 schools) decided to go ahead like normal

Florida – On schedule to start normally, but will decide for sure on Friday

Georgia – Regular season postponed until September 4

Hawaii – Regular season postponed, date still TBD

Mississippi – Regular season postponed until September 4

New Jersey – Regular season postponed until October 2

New York – Regular season postponed until October 1

New Mexico – Season moved to Spring 2021

North Carolina – Regular season postponed, date still TBD

South Carolina – Regular season postponed until September 11

Tennessee – Voting on Wednesday to determine

Texas – UIL Postponed season for 5A/6A schools until September 25, 1A-4A will start August 28. Private schools season postponed until September 27.

Vermont – Regular season postponed, date still TBD

Virginia – Season moved to Spring 2021

Washington – Regular season postponed until September 18

Washington DC – Postponed until March-April 2021

West Virginia – Regular season postponed until September 3