LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued an executive order which will allow the high school football to begin in two weeks’ time. In addition to football, sports including volleyball, boys soccer, and girls swimming and diving will also be able to begin.
Whitmer indicates that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services have made the designation as possible. The Governor said she still “advises against playing contact sports.” Despite this, she is not prohibiting them from playing in the mitten state at this time.
Limited practices will begin on Tuesday. The first games will begin in Week 4. That means that on September 18, players will take to the field. This will be with an extreme limitation of fans. Teams will play a six-game regular season before beginning the playoffs.
Whitmer, MHSAA working to resume sports activities — which includes football
MHSAA staff have been working diligently for months with the Governor’s office to return to activities. Additionally, these plans were regularly worked on with health officials. On June 30, Whitmer released the Michigan Safe Schools Roadmap. It tasks the MHSAA with creating and publishing guidance for school sports reopening.
For the past eight weeks, the staff has worked to fulfill this mandate and has published all materials at MHSAA.com. During this process, the MHSAA has made certain that athletic guidance complies with all Executive Orders of the Governor.
The MHSAA has a number of updates as we have received information from the Governor’s office that we have been seeking since early August.
Executive Order 176 removes restrictions on sports, especially football
With the release of new Executive Order 176, competition may begin immediately in soccer in all regions of the state.
This same order has opened indoor facilities for organized sports practice and competition. This allows swimming & diving and volleyball to begin indoors on Wednesday, Sept. 9 in those regions currently not able to do so.
Executive Order 176 is removing the restrictions on all sports, including football. On Aug. 14, the Representative Council postponed football because padded football practice and competition could not happen under Executive Order 160. While other factors include collegiate football plans, general uncertainties, and other unknowns were discussed, there was no other decision, given the state law at that time. With this new order, information has emerged over the past three weeks bringing more clarity to football across the country. Here is what has changed since August 14:
Specifics on Executive Order 176
- Executive Order 176 now allows all sports, including football, to move forward and at participating MHSAA member schools.
- Twenty-five other states are resuming football practices and games safely and successfully in early August. Eight states should begin fall football practice soon.
- The Big Ten is exploring a fall season start that could begin as early as October or November.
- MHSAA member schools reported a successful football acclimatization week from August 10-14. Executive Order 160 prevented consideration to move to the next phased-in steps of padded practices and games.
- Member schools are reporting successful starts to fall sports in cross country, golf, tennis, soccer, swimming & diving, and volleyball. When positive COVID cases have been identified, they have been handled safely and appropriately by working with health department officials. This process is part of our new reality is returning to schools and sports in the time of COVID.
- MHSAA COVID guidance and safety protocols are among the best in the nation. We have safety plans in place, created in partnership with the National Federation (NFHS) and the Sports Medicine Advisory Committees (SMAC) of both the MHSAA and NFHS, to minimize as much risk as possible.
- Numerous non-school football opportunities have emerged over the past 14 days, proving that kids would have been playing football this fall. From the outset, we have said that we believe student-athletes are safest in our school-based programs led by educators.
- All of us share the fundamental belief that we must protect the health and safety of individuals first. This includes not only COVID prevention measures but also the mental health of teenage students and adults as well. Many recent studies and publications surmise that the greatest health and safety risk currently is mental health. The opportunity to participate in fall sports will provide countless benefits for the mental health of our students.
- For many kids, sports is the most significant motivating factor to keep them in school and progressing toward graduation. Given additional online educational challenges, sports and the daily routine are perhaps more important now than ever.
MHSAA gave the green light to restart the fall football season
Because of these factors, the MHSAA Representative Council approved restarting the fall football season on Tuesday, September 8. The MHSAA will conduct a fall football tournament for schools that wish to participate. Fall schools will have two days of practice in “shells” (helmets and shoulder pads, only) beginning on September 8. This will be followed by fully padded practice after those two days of “shells” practice.
From September 3-7, it is a dead period for football activity with no activities except the issuing of equipment. No scrimmages will take place at any time during the fall season. The competition season will consist of six regular-season games beginning the Thursday-Saturday of September 17-19.
Schools should resume their schedules beginning with what would have normally been Week 4 the season, filling schedule openings with other participating schools. Once the MHSAA has determined the number of schools participating in fall football, the postseason tournament will be organized placing all teams in the first round of the playoffs on October 30-31, guaranteeing all fall participating schools at least seven available varsity contest dates. More details on the MHSAA playoffs will be available soon.
Local schools to follow guidelines
Consistent with all previous health epidemics, local schools will follow guidance from their respective local health departments, and abide by all state government mandates, to decide locally if their school and students will play. We understand that some schools will not choose to participate in this restarted, shortened fall season. The MHSAA Constitution and Handbook does not require a school to play a sport or enter any MHSAA tournament if that school chooses not to play or instead decides to play the sport in a different season.
Schools may still play football in the spring, organizing a local or league schedule but no MHSAA tournament will be offered. The ultimate authority is local control and schools may conduct a sports season at a time different than the MHSAA conducts its season-ending tournaments.
Spectator limits remain unchanged in Regions 6 and 8 with a 250 limit for indoor activities and 500 for outdoor activities. Those parts of the state currently in Phase 4 is limited to two spectators per participant for both indoor and outdoor events.
Facial coverings required except swimming
One additional requirement in this new Executive Order is that a facial covering is worn except when swimming. We are seeking further interpretations and guidance on this language in the new order moving forward.
We remind you that the 16 allowed days of voluntary coach-player contact for spring sports may occur from September 8-October 31 if a school chooses. Spring sport safety protocols for these workouts will be on each sport home page at MHSAA.com with further information and details to be forthcoming.
Continued monitoring as the pandemic evolves
The nature of this pandemic since March has been fluid and ever-changing. Today’s information is yet another example of this fact. We are pleased that fall sport plans are finalized and we all can move forward based on this new Executive Order as well as action taken by the MHSAA Representative Council. I fully realize that any decision made during COVID will likely result in some criticism and opposition.
Our mode of operation since last March has been to be open, honest and transparent by sharing all information we have at a given time, and when information and circumstances change, we have communicated why subsequent changes are taking place. We will continue to communicate and lead during these times, and we are here to help and assist all schools with the path forward.
A look back at the 2019 Division 1 Championship between Davison and Brighton:
This article comprises of media and information from an MHSAA press release.
Gabriel Schray is an editor and contributing writer for Heartland Newsfeed and the editor-in-chief of Midwest Sports Network. He is one of the top up-and-coming sports play-by-play broadcasters in the United States. He is currently the voice of Adrian College Athletics, where he calls football and hockey. You can hear Schray on ACSN, ACTV, WVAC, BCSN 1, BCSN 2, BCSN Now, JTV Jackson and more. Professional portfolio: GabrielSchray.com