'We've done everything possible': MHSAA sacks football until spring

David Goricki
The Detroit News

High school football in Michigan has been sacked.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association announced Friday afternoon that the football season has been postponed and will be played in the spring.

Algonac High School football players run laps around the field at the beginning of practice earlier this week.

The news comes as teams across the state wrap up their first week of practice with helmets but no pads.

“At the end of the day, we did everything we could to find a path forward for football this fall,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said in a statement. “But while continuing to connect with the governor’s office, state health department officials, our member schools’ personnel and the council, there is just too much uncertainty and too many unknowns to play football this fall.

“No one is willing to take the risk of COVID being passed on because of high-risk sport. Decisions have to be made on our other sports as well, but none of those carry the same close, consistent and face-to-face contact as football.”

The football season switch was made after consulting with state health department officials and after surveying member high schools after the first four days of practice. For now, all other fall sports will proceed as scheduled, including volleyball, soccer, cross country, golf, tennis and swimming and diving.

The MHSAA considers volleyball and soccer moderate-risk sports, while cross country, golf, tennis and swimming and diving are considered low-risk.

“It’s disappointing that soccer gets to play and football doesn’t,” Detroit King coach Tyrone Spencer said. “Moving to spring can potentially hurt seniors physically. What will the fall look like in 2021 for football?”

And other issues will need to be sorted out, such as basketball season overlapping with football season, and if spring seasons get pushed further into the summer.

Uyl said last month the MHSAA would keep close tabs on what Michigan’s neighboring states would do regarding football. Ohio shortened its season to six games and allowed all teams to participate in the state playoffs. Indiana is still set to try and have its normal season, while Illinois pushed its season to spring in late July.

“It’s just crazy that it happened, unexpected and disappointing since everybody’s been working so hard,” said Garrett Dellinger, Clarkston four-star offensive lineman bound for LSU. “I’ll be graduating early and enrolling early at LSU, so I won’t be able to stick around, but I’ll just try to keep the guys motivated in the months ahead so they’ll have a chance.

"It was my last year to play high school ball with my little brother (sophomore lineman Cole Dellinger), too, so definitely disappointing.”

Dellinger isn't alone in having played his final high school game. The News’ Top 20 teams will look much different in the spring than it would have this fall with No. 1 Belleville poised to lose several players to college early enrollment this January, including five-star defensive tackle Damon Payne (Alabama) and four-star linebacker Jamari Buddin (Penn State).

No. 2 West Bloomfield is expected to lose four players, including four-star running back Donovan Edwards — considered the No. 2 back in the nation by 247Sports. In addition to Dellinger, No. 3 Clarkston is losing four-star offensive linemen Rocco Spindler (Notre Dame) and tight end Blake Kosin (Northern Illinois).

“I just got done talking to my coaches — didn’t tell the kids," said longtime Clarkston head coach Kurt Richardson, less than an hour after the news broke. "We’re scheduled for a photo day and everything (Saturday), so we’re going to bring them in and talk to them then and collect the stuff and go from there. It kills us. We’re losing some quality kids, but when you weigh it with kids’ health, that’s the No. 1 priority by far, so we have to keep that in mind.

“I respect the MHSAA for what they decided. It took a lot of guts. They had the kids’ best interest in mind, but not only the kids, but also the grandparents that come to the games and coaches, too. We almost lost a guy like (56-year-old Rochester Adams coach) Tony (Patritto), so if you look at the picture, it’s a good thing.”

Patritto tested positive for COVID-19 in July. He had trouble breathing and was in the ICU at Troy Beaumont Hospital for two weeks and on the highest possible oxygen support without going on a ventilator.

He said earlier this week that he missed the first day of practice for the first time in 30 years, but had still planned to be on the sidelines in late August or early September.

Football teams throughout the state were allowed to practice for the first time on Monday with the first day of padded practice set for Monday and opening games Aug. 27-29.

Utica Eisenhower didn’t practice this week due to a player testing positive; Birmingham Seaholm didn’t practice until Thursday for the same reason.

Clinton Township Chippewa Valley coach Scott Merchant said this week that “we’re so far behind physically to where we would be in the past year because we haven’t been in the weight room lifting heavy since March. We were so restricted in the summer to only have conditioning workouts for an hour at most.

“I know everybody is worried about COVID and rightly so, but we also have to be careful of all the football-related stuff, and I’m worried about heat exhaustion; I’m worried about concussions, I’m worried about kids breaking their necks, kids blowing their knees out because they’re not where they’re supposed to be at physically because we’re trying to fit in multiple months of stuff in a week or two.”

Joe Palka

Saline coach Joe Palka says he understands the MHSAA’s decision. He just wishes it would have come earlier.

“The only negative thing is it would have been nice to know that a week earlier so we didn’t get in there and get everyone’s hopes up and start rolling," Palka said, "but I understand his (Uyl’s) position, and I understand that data is changing day to day, and what I’ll do is put a positive spin on it and say these five days that we had this week and if we get any more workouts this fall with the kids it will be like a traditional college spring ball, so that’s a positive.

“At the end of the day, my honest opinion is when everybody else, the Big Ten, the MAC and all the colleges and there’s just too much question out there about the medical evidence. I understand the decision, I support the decision and say let’s get ready for the spring.”