OSAA announces new sports schedule in response to COVID

Scott Swanson

The Oregon School Activities Association Executive Board has revised its calendar to start sports and other interscholastic activities in February, the organization announced Monday, Dec. 7.

OSAA Executive Board members indicated they were hopeful that the state’s landscape was going to improve when they adopted the current calendar back in August.

But that has not proven to be the case as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, county risk level metrics have changed and restrictions on prohibited activities have not been lifted by the Governor’s Office and Oregon Health Authority, the OSAA said in a statement Monday.

“Today’s decision by the Executive Board is another reminder of the impact the pandemic has had on Oregon students and schools,” said Peter Weber, OSAA executive director.

“While disappointed that we need to adjust our original schedule, we believe that keeping three distinct seasons, albeit in shortened seasons, maintains potential opportunities for all students moving forward.”

Board members made it clear with comments during the meeting that the OSAA and its member schools are bound by the rules, regulations, and guidance set forth by the Governor’s Office and the OHA.

Neither the OSAA Executive Board nor the OSAA executive director are able to waive state mandates or provide exceptions for certain activities or counties in the state. the statement said.

The OSAA staff continues to be in contact with the Governor’s Office, OHA and the Oregon Department of Education to advocate for a safe return to in-person learning and high school activities, it said.

In late August, the OSAA decided to plan for limited and delayed sports seasons, with the winter season sports beginning practices Dec. 28 and culminating in the first week of March, followed by fall sports practice starting on Feb. 22 and culminating in the end of April or the beginning of May, and spring sports starting practice April 19 and playing through the end of June.

In the revised calendar adopted Monday, fall sports are moved to Season 2 and will begin in February with multiple activities permitted by state guidance.

“This allows time for case counts to decrease in the new year and for counties to subsequently move out of the Extreme Risk category,” the OSAA announced.

“Cross country and soccer, as outdoor sports, are permitted by the Governor’s Office and OHA in all counties.

“As an indoor activity, volleyball is tied to the governor’s County Risk Level Guidance and only allowed in those counties deemed as Lower, Moderate, or High Risk.

“Full-contact football remains on the governor’s prohibited list of activities at this time.”

Discussions around possibly moving football later in the year did not go anywhere, due to concerns expressed by OSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee members regarding the impact that a later contact football season would require modifications to the Fall 2021 football season, the statement said.

Season 3 will feature the traditional spring activities (baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track and field), all of which are permitted by state guidance as outdoor activities. These will begin April 5 and extend into the third week in May. 

The sports calendar will wrap up with Season 4 and traditional winter sports (swimming, basketball and wrestling) beginning in mid-May and extending into late June. The shift of wrestling and basketball to the end of the calendar provides the most runway for their prohibition to be lifted by the state.

The OSAA has been given no indication that a change will be made in this designation but remains hopeful that a change could occur prior to Season 4. Swimming is currently allowed outdoors for all counties and indoors for those counties not in the Extreme Risk metric.

The Executive Board also voted to extend Season 1 through Feb. 21, 2021 to allow training, workouts and even competitions to occur in those areas of the state that are allowed per the Governor’s Office, OHA guidance, and local school district policy.

Sweet Home Athletic Director Nate Tyler said he alerted his coaches of the changes Monday afternoon.

“It’s good news and bad news,” he said. “From the athletic director’s standpoint there’s not a lot of clarity.

“Football is still banned and we don’t know if it will be allowed. Volleyball can’t practice indoors and we’re not sure if that’s going to change. But this provides hope. It’s just not a clear picture.”

The changes also keep the winter sports mini season, which was supposed to be in full swing by now, on hold as well.

“Things would really have to change in January to do anything,” Tyler said.

Wrestling Coach Steve Thorpe said the delay is better than canceling sports altogether. He noted that when the COVID metric curve was “flattened” in Linn County in August, “we did everything we were supposed to do and were still not allowed to have physical contact.”

“Now the numbers are higher than they’ve ever been, and there’s no way we will be able to have contact. I think this is the best-case scenario because we are going to put the two most contact sports there are – basketball and wrestling – on hold.

“I’m very happy they’ve readjusted the schedule rather than cancel activities.”

The activities schedule was revised to allow more time for school buildings to be accessible to their programs.

Activities such as choir and band/orchestra have been pushed back to the end of the school year to provide their programs the opportunity to rehearse in person if school district policy allows.  Cheerleading and dance/drill culminating weeks have also been adjusted to allow more time for facilities to open or have weather improve enough to move outdoors.

The board plans to revisit participation limitations for all seasons, out-of-season coaching policies for Season 2, 3, and 4, and the need for further decisions as a result of updated state guidance or changing risk level metrics at upcoming work sessions, the OSAA statement said.

Thorpe, who chairs the Oregon Wrestling Association, said he’s worked with the OSAA since fall on what to do with the sport.

“This gives kids an opportunity to be involved in something, to connect with coaches,” he said. “If we continue with the route we’re going, kids suffer. We have to get them actively engaged for their mental and physical well-being.

“Starting it in February is better than not having it at all.”