The Alabama High School Athletic Association announced Wednesday that high school sports for the 2020-21 school year will begin as scheduled.

The AHSAA’s Central Board of Control approved a return to play plan’s “Best Practices” during a meeting on Wednesday that allows AHSAA fall sports cross country, football, volleyball and swimming and diving to start their seasons on time. 

The decision to press ahead with its scheduled start dates comes as other states are delaying or canceling high school sports because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

During a virtual press conference streamed online on Thursday, the AHSAA outlined several of new health and safety guidelines that schools and teams to follow for prep sports this fall. 

“These best practices will not eliminate the risks — only mitigate them,” said AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese said, who said contest officials, coaches and players who are on sidelines are encouraged to wear masks. “Everyone should understand, this sports this season will not be normal. We cannot think in normal terms.”

High school teams may open practice on Monday, though the week will be an acclimation period for the sports or used to conduct tryouts. For example, football teams won’t be permitted to practice in full pads until Aug. 3.

The AHSAA did not set a limit on fans admitted to games, instead leaving that decision up to local schools and districts. Savarese said the AHSAA does expect there to be fan limits put in place by schools and districts, and the AHSAA has instituted an “Equal Access” rule for visiting teams’ fans.

The AHSAA has encouraged schools that cheerleaders and bands be permitted at games, though that decision will be made by schools and districts.

Savarese also said AHSAA teams are permitted to compete against out-of-state opponents or at out-of-state events. 

Savarese said students who chose the virtual option for learning will still be permitted to participate in athletics.

If teams are forced to forfeit games or matches, an administrator should do so in writing to the AHSAA. Teams that are unable to play will not be penalized.

Other notable changes/guidelines in place for 2020 fall sports seasons are:

 

Cross Country

• Cross country courses widened to six feet where possible.

• Cross country meets encouraged to consider using staggered, wave or interval starts.

• Consider using finish corrals and Fully Automatic Time timing for larger meets as easier to distance at finish.

• Consider using image-based equipment at finish to assist to avoid congestion.

 

Football

• The team players box will extended on both sidelines to the 10-yard lines in order for more social distancing space for teams. Coaches will continue to be restricted to the coaches box that extend to each 25-yard line.

• Cloth face coverings are permissible. Plastic shields covering the entire face (unless integrated into the face mask and attached to the helmet and clear without the presence of any tint) shall not be allowed.

• Charged timeouts and other stoppages will be extended to a maximum of two minutes in length.

• Only one team captain will be present at the coin toss with the referee and umpire.

 

Swimming and Diving

• Athletes are to arrive in competitive attire to events. 

• The number of people at the pre-meet conference will be limited.

• Only one person per lane should be permitted at turning end.

• Decrease the number of participants or hold one conference with coaches and one meeting with captains. The referee can use the P.A. system or starting system microphone to allow participants to hear but keep properly separated.

• Timers must assemble at the finish of each race at the edge of the pool within 6-8 feet confines of the lane which they are timing. Timers should wear cloth facial coverings.

• Require all takeoff judging from the sides of the pool and space relay swimmers apart from one another. Relay takeoff judges should wear cloth facial coverings.

• Establish multiple sessions for swimming and diving warm-up periods to limit numbers of swimmers per lane and restrict the number of swimmers in the competition area.

 

Volleyball

• The pre-match conference will take place at center court and only include head coaches. 

• The number of people at the scorer’s table will be limited.

• The act of changing benches has been suspended. 

• Suspend the use of the coin toss to determine serve/receive. The visiting team will serve first in Set 1 and alternate first serve for the remaining non-deciding sets. For the deciding set, the coin toss to determine serve/receive will take place at center court with team captains and the second referee maintaining appropriate social distance of 3 to 6 feet. The coin toss will be called by the home team.

• Suspend roster submissions at the pre-match conference. Rosters are submitted directory to the officials’ table before the 10-minute mark.

• Cloth face coverings and gloves are permissible for players.

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