The Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled the spring sports season April 20, an unprecedented step brought on by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. On May 6, Jerry Snodgrass, the executive director of the OHSAA, spoke with ThisWeek, answering questions pertaining to how the association is dealing with the pandemic.
Question: What will be the long-term effect on the OHSAA of losing the 2020 spring season? Is there a way to recoup the lost funds?
Snodgrass: “There is a way to recoup it and it includes our own individual cuts inside our office. Everything from salary cuts to layoffs to possible furloughs. We have to do our part in order to maintain our service to our schools. That’s part of it.”
Q: The cancellation wasn’t made until Gov. Mike DeWine announced April 20 that school buildings statewide would remain closed for the remainder of the school year. Why did you wait until that announcement?
S: “School sports are unique. They’re much more unique than collegiate sports or professional sports or even youth sports in that we require that administrative oversight and school building themselves to be functional and open, so just because kids were still in school remotely wasn’t the reason at all. It was their facilities, it was their usage. It was the requirements on spacing and cleanliness. We really had to rely on when the buildings were closed to make our final determination.”
Q: What are the plans should the virus have a second wave this fall? You previously mentioned possibilities were being discussed. How are those preparations going? Can you provide any possible scenarios or possible plans?
S: “We like to be in control of things and that’s sometimes the frustrating thing when we’re not. One of the key elements about a second wave and how it affects our sports is the present time, and as things open up and as things become more permissible, we are emphasizing in weekly calls to our athletic directors and our communications to coaches that we have to practice all of these things — the social distancing, the masks. We can’t force it, but we’re strongly recommending it so we can eliminate the chance for that second wave. That’s so critical for us. We’re also preparing for every single what-if if it does happen.”
Q: You said cross country and golf were fall sports that lent themselves to social distancing. However, cross country runners compete in packs and start and finish the race in close contact. How can this be remedied? Are there any other sports that can be modified, at least temporarily, to comply with social distancing?
S: “Actually, golf and tennis are probably naturally more social distanced. Cross country, not necessarily. Can it be adjusted to make it social distanced? Yes, and those are things we’re looking at.”
Q: Do you anticipate some sports being eliminated temporarily because of the social situations we have experienced?
S: “I wouldn’t say eliminated, but I would say, is there a chance that we could conduct some sports and not others? Yes, that is certainly on the table. Everything is on the table. The daily happenings, the daily decisions and the daily orders, every single one of those things are on the table.”
Q: Has there been any discussion about requiring athletes, coaches and officials — and even spectators — to wear masks during events? Would the fan issue have to be decided by the host school with the OHSAA making the call in the postseason?
S: “Yes, there has been discussion in terms of if those become restrictions for the best safety techniques, then we have to consider that, too, and what sports where it’s simply just not conducive to do it and there probably are some. If regulations come out for opened schools that require masks, it’s very difficult to say they shouldn’t be required in a sport where there’s any close proximity. It is highly unlikely that we could mandate that. From all indications, as things open, I believe that much of this is going to be left to local health departments.”
Q: For athletes in non-fall sports, will they be allowed, if deemed safe enough by government officials, to resume summer team workouts in July and/or August?
S: “We will make that decision in conjunction with recommendations from the governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Health. Though it’s not popular, we’ve mandated a no-contact period for our coaches and that is really the extent of what we have the authority to do to assist the current orders of social distancing, eliminating groups of more than 10. Our only control of that in support of the governor and Department of Health orders is to restrict coaches’ contact. It’s not popular. Our kids want to be with their coaches and we want them with their coaches, but we feel we’re supporting the governor’s orders. When those orders are lifted or amended, we can then amend ours.”
Q: With school buildings not allowed to open until after June 30, what kind of effect does that have on the fall sports calendar that the OHSAA releases every summer to determine when the first days of coaching will be allowed for each sport?
S: “June 30 is an important date, but given what it is and that’s why we’re not changing every week and changing every other day, June 30 is a target date for us. We are planning accordingly, and we will give our coaches and our players more flexibility once things do open up and we’re assuming it’s June 30. If it’s not June 30, we will amend accordingly.”
Q: How much time do you anticipate athletes needing to be properly trained for the season, especially with there being no structured workouts?
S: “The timetable is not etched in stone. From June 1 to Aug. 1 is a period of time that we don’t really determine what kids do if school is out. We’re school-based in sports, but in reality, July is very critical for preseason training for all fall sports, so if July is available, then that’s a good sign for reopening fall sports. If July is not available, or even parts of it, we are talking seriously about how do we adjust time to make sure kids in August are properly trained. Every day they lose in July is critical to the start of the seasons in August.”
Q: Rumors are circulating that the fall and spring sports seasons could be switched. Is there any validity to that? Would it be possible?
S: “There are so many challenges with doing that. Exclusively in Ohio, we have schools that are in leagues with other states and if they would change, that would be problematic. For every problem, there’s a solution, but there are a magnitude of problems in the short term to do that. We have so many multiple-sport athletes. There are just so many significant issues in doing that. Our spring sports have already lost the 2020 season. If we would right now move spring sports to the fall or selected ones and we have any kind of a secondary outbreak, we would end up canceling spring sports again. These are what-ifs, these are the unknowns that I wish we had better answers to, but they have to be considered when you’re making a drastic decision. When we get to August, if things are shut down, then everything is on the table.”