The National Federation of State High School Associations released guidelines this week for the return of high school sports from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of the protocols and procedures are formidable and leave one wondering if sports can return at all. For example, during phase one of the return, teams can’t use a common ball in practice without disinfecting it after each player’s touch.
The NFHS recommendations should also be causing New Jersey athletic directors, coaches and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to think outside the box. That means embracing radical ideas, such as baseball in the fall and football in the spring.
The NFHS divided sports into three risk categories — high, moderate and low. Football is classified in the high risk category along with wrestling, boys lacrosse, competitive cheering and dancing.
With that in mind, the question needs to be asked.
The return of high school sports is sure to be tricky, so why are states, including New Jersey, trying to bring back football, maybe the most difficult sport to return first?
The challenges football presents are multiple. High school football teams have the biggest rosters. There is no social distancing in a sport that relies on blocking and tackling.
Meanwhile, baseball, by its nature, is much better able to deal with the demands of social distancing than football.
The NFHS places baseball in the moderate risk category and says the sport can be considered low risk with the appropriate cleaning of equipment and use of masks by participants.
New Jersey high school fall sport practices are scheduled to begin in August. The NJSIAA is expected to soon announce information to guide the return of state high school sports. For the 2020-21 school year, New jersey should play football in the spring and baseball in the fall. The football-crazed state of Ohio is considering such a plan.
The benefits are numerous.
With a football season that begins March 1, the state’s high schools are buying themselves more than seven additional months to devise ways to overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. High schools will be able to learn from the return of NFL and college football. What worked well on that level? What didn’t? What unexpected obstacles did the NFL or colleges face?
The naysayers will proclaim there’s plenty of reasons why football and baseball can’t switch seasons.
One reason is a lack of fall daylight. But the clocks don’t get turned back until Nov. 1, and baseball games can be started at 2 p.m. in late October and early November. Doubleheaders can be played on weekends.
The weather works in favor of the move. The past few years September, October and November feel more like baseball season, and March, April and May feel more like football weather. This is especially true at the Jersey Shore.
The move raises other questions.
How does it affect college recruiting in both sports?
What’s the impact on the 2021-22 seasons?
Those are details that can be worked out.
This is a time when we need to embrace change and figure out how things can get done rather than why they can’t.
Football will be the toughest sport to bring back; baseball one of the easiest.
Do what is easy first, learn, and then use those lessons to make the hard less difficult later.
So, let’s have a fall of home runs and curveballs and a spring of run/pass options and goal-line stands.
It’s safe, it’s smart, and it’s the quickest way to get what we all want — high school sports back as quickly as possible.
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.