NSAA plans full 2020 fall sports season, contingency plans outlined

Published: Jul. 10, 2020 at 9:09 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The high school sports season is scheduled to begin on August 20th across Nebraska. NSAA Executive Director Jay Bellar says no changes have been made to the fall schedule, though administrators continue to monitor COVID-19 trends across the state.

Opening night for the 2020 high school football season is August 27th, and other fall sports include boys tennis, cross country, girls golf, softball, and volleyball. Below is a conversation between Bellar and 1011 NOW Sports Director Kevin Sjuts about the status of the upcoming seasons:

Q: Where do things stand for the upcoming fall high school sports season?

A: I hope we’re going to be on track to start our fall sports when we’re supposed to start. As long as we have kids in our schools, we’re going to do our best to have our activities at that time, too.

Q: What are the variables and what are the things that you are looking at as you evaluate the upcoming athletic competitions this fall?

A: The hard part of what we do is evaluating what parts of the state can do something and what shouldn't be done at that time. Working very closely with the local health departments in those areas along with school administration. The Governor's office will never be out of reach, either.

Q: Who specifically are you talking to on a day-to-day basis as you continue to evaluate the fall season, which begins in about a month?

A: Staff. Also, the Nebraska Department of Education. That may not be daily, but its at least a couple times per week. We have been in touch with the Governor's staff quite often. We have a committee that spans the state. The western part of the state may not be in the same shape as the eastern part of the state. We're a state organization, so we have to take that into consideration.

Q: How do you tackle that, no pun intended, with cases being different on the western part of the state as opposed to the east. Could you envision a situation in which part of the state gets to play in the fall and the other part does not?

A: I hope that’s not the case, but that could happen. Therein lies a problem of how many (schools) do we need to have a state championship. That will be determined before the season starts.

Q: As the Executive Director, what's the most common question or e-mail you've received over the past few months regarding the status of fall sports?

A: Are you going to have football.

Q: What's the answer? How do you reply?

A: My answer has been 'We hope so and we hope things stay the way they are now where we can at least get the kids on the field. A good indication (is) we're having the Shrine Bowl here Saturday. I hope that goes well."

Q: What's the argument for continuing on and playing football this fall?

A: I think people realize how important sports are to our kids. Not only sports but activities in general. It’s definitely the other half of education. I think their mental health is better when they’re doing their activities and they have something to plan on. With that said, we want everyone to be safe.

Q: What about the other fall sports beyond football? Do you envision a situation in which you may consider going forward with girls golf and volleyball but not football?"

A: I think there could be a scenario that that happens. I hope not, but it sure could. We're going to do what we are allowed to do with the groups we work with - the CDC and the local health departments. You may see different things happen. We talk about volleyball - do teams need to change chairs and sides of the court all the time? Probably not. They prefer it that way, but that may be something we don't do this year. Are referees need to use whistles? There are artificial noisemakers that they can run with their hand. The game may look a little different.

Q: Volleyball is a different deal because it’s indoors. Isn’t that a factor, too, when you evaluate that sport?

A: I think so. When you look at the directives, there’s a bigger percentage granted to the outdoors than the indoors. We have to be cognizant of that. Volleyball is getting bigger and bigger in our state. We see that in our attendance at our state games. I credit John Cook for that and the University of Nebraska. They have a great program. Girls love that. They want to play.

Q: Is the NSAA going to consider delaying the start of the season or condensing the start of the season?

A: We talked about that. We talked about district only for football and maybe cutting the volleyball season down. Most of them (volleyball teams) can play 30 to 35, even 40 games. Is a 20-to-25-game schedule enough? It probably is. Do they want it that way? Probably not. They like to play games and I understand that.

Q: If they go district-only scheduling in football, how many games would that be?

A: In some classes, it would only be four. In some, it would be five. We’re better off to just say, ‘You know what, we’re going to try to have that (full) season.’ And then make our alternations as they happen and be flexible.

Q: You're not just an administrator, you're also a fan. Could you imagine a Friday night in the fall without football?

A: I couldn’t. I don’t know what I’d do. TV is getting old. People want to get out there. They want to watch and support their kids. I remember (state) basketball and we had to limit the crowd. That was really hard to do. People that were there really enjoyed it. But there were a lot of people that were upset. I understand why because its something they do. They love to go to those games and back their teams and their communities.

Q: Ultimately, who makes the call?

A: Ultimately, it will come down to the CDC and what the local health departments say we can do. We are under the direction now that we’re going to play if they say it’s okay to play and safe enough to play. We understand there are risks involved. We know we still have a responsibility to make wise decisions. We’re going to play if we can.

Q: I know you don't have a crystal ball, but do you any guess as to a timetable for a decision on the fall sports season?

A: I hope we can get to the last week in July before we get pressed with that. It’s going to have to be within the next two weeks. People are going to say ‘You’ve had three months to figure this out.’ But all the parts keep changing. We’re going to ask people to be flexible; be patient. We want our kids to have those seasons and those championships.

Q: How many contingency plans do you have?

A: They're even talking about a 'Flip season.' Are we going to flip spring with fall? We decided we're not going to do that. But if the colleges start doing that, I suppose that talk will come up again. I don't know that there is anything off the table at this time.

Q: What makes high school sports in Nebraska so special? Whatever your answer is, that probably supports why you’re moving forward in a manner to bring sports back.

A: Seeing how this all plays in with the community. It starts with the kids, of course, and their parents. The communities follow those kids. Its just fun to watch and fun to see. I think its more than just that football season or that basketball season, its a way of life in a lot of these communities and how they follow their teams. You’d sure hate to see it go away. There’s a mental health side of this, too. It’s just better for kids to have something to do and something they believe in.

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