Michigan high school football padded practices delayed one week; decision on schedule coming in August

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Michigan High School Athletic Association Executive Director Mark Uyl announced Wednesday the traditional fall season is still a go, with a week delay for football teams to begin practicing with full-player pads and equipment.

Football practice will still begin Aug. 10, but with the practice sessions consisting of conditioning, physical training and skill work with no other player equipment except helmets. Then, teams can practice with full pads and equipment on Aug. 17.

High school football practice was set to begin Aug. 10 and it still will on that day with practice sessions consisting of conditioning, physical training and skill work with no other player equipment except helmets.

Uyl was a guest Wednesday afternoon on The Huge Show, talking about how the representative council of the MHSAA approved the next steps in returning sports for member schools, adopting a plan to phase in competition for fall sports in hopes of continuing to deter the spread of COVID-19.

“The easiest thing for us to have done today was to cancel everything in the fall, just like what some of the other states have done where you just push everything back," Uyl said on the show. "That would have been the safest and easiest thing to do, from a political standpoint right now, just say ‘Let’s try it again in to in the spring.’ But, what we’re hearing from our schools as they try to get ready for face-to-face education later in August is, ‘You know what, let’s start small, let’s start safe and if we have to delay and pause and give it some more time we do have a plan in place to allow us to do so.’”

The MHSAA's representative council said lower-risk sports — Lower Peninsula girls golf, Lower Peninsula boys tennis and Upper Peninsula girls tennis, cross country and Lower Peninsula girls swimming & diving — may begin practice Aug. 12 and begin competition on their traditional start dates of Aug. 19 and 21.

The MHSAA stated that moderate and high-risk sports — football, girls volleyball and boys soccer — may begin practice, but not competition. Decisions about competition timelines for these three sports will be made by Aug. 20.

Football games are set to have an opening weekend on Aug. 27-29.

The council — the MHSAA’s 19-member legislative body — also voted to cancel scrimmages in all fall sports for this school year and approved limitations on numbers of teams that may compete together at regular-season tournaments, invitationals and other multi-team events.

According to an update from the MHSAA, the council believed eliminating scrimmages emphasized the importance of keeping teams from mixing before the first date of competition, and the regular-season limitations might lessen opportunities for viral spread while still allowing meets to be conducted.

“It’s just for the fall sports, and part of that is going to be able to control the controllables,” Uyl said of eliminating scrimmages and limiting the amount of teams for tournaments and invitationals.

“For example, scrimmages are all over the board in terms of our fall sports. In some sports, many schools will get together with neighboring schools for multiple scrimmage before their first game, so we’re trying to minimize as much risk as we can; so let’s only have kids from neighboring schools get together when it really counts, that’s for official games, matches and competition, so eliminating scrimmages was just a pretty easy way our council felt that was to minimize the risk. Ohio actually announced a similar approach with how to handle scrimmages.

“The other thing that we did, which really deals with the individual sports especially, is we want to try and limit the field at some of these large invitationals. Before school starts it’s common for schools to have these large golf invitationals where you’d have dozens of schools and just a huge field of golfers, so what we did was take a regular-season golf event and take the number of holes, which was 18 holes, and times it by four and that equals the total number of competitors and the size of the field, because you don’t want more than four kids, one playing group per hole. That way those kids know where they will arrive and what hole they will start.”

Uyl also said Saturday volleyball invitationals will be limited to four teams instead of dozens like in past years.

“In a team sport like volleyball, where some of these Saturday invitationals where it used to be dozens of teams in a facility, we’ve limited that to four, so if you’re going to get together and have a dual or have a tri or have a quad, you have to do it with no more than four schools at a location; again, allowing our schools to play regular-season contests, but yet scaling the size of those down to try and control and minimize as much of the risk as possible.”

Uyl said he will watch closely to what neighboring states do in the days and weeks ahead when Ohio and Indiana start fall practice.

“We’ve done some things in today’s announcement where we pushed back the start of padded practice for football," Uyl said, "we kind of pushed back the decision on competition on our team sports because we need to see, I think there will be a lot of information that we’re going to learn over the next 10 days to two weeks.

" ... These are different times than any of us have every lived through before. We would love to be able to say, ‘Here’s exactly what things are going to look like and this is exactly what’s going to happen a month from now,’ but the one thing that this pandemic has taught us is that you just have to slow down and just take things in very small increments of time, and the thing that we’re hearing over and over again is that when it is safe to return to activity that our folks will be ready to go.”

West Bloomfield veteran football coach Ron Bellamy believes Uyl and his staff are doing a great job, also adding if practice for pads is pushed back a week, the season also should be pushed back a week to make sure the players are properly prepared.

“If this is what it takes for us to get the chance to play football I’m all for it," Bellamy said. "It’s not what we’re used to, but these times are not what we’re used to as well. I think realistically the kids need a week and a half or two to acclimatize themselves with pads, especially high-school level kids to get the proper training, proper tackling, but at least we know we still may be able to play football, they didn’t shut it down.

“Mark Uyl and the MHSAA, those guys have done a great job with being very open to us coaches, just good leadership, but like I said it’s not ideal since the coaches are ready, the kids are ready for training camp and teams are ready to get together."

"... We’re just following the guidelines the MHSAA is putting out there.”