Time is starting to run short on getting high school athletics up and running by Feb. 22. The Oregon School Activities Association settled upon that date for the first of three competitive “seasons” with the traditional falls sports up first.
That’s a little over three weeks from now.
During a report to the Philomath School Board on Monday night, Philomath High School Principal Mike Bussard said he knows the issue with athletics is important to the community, but he added: “If you’re as confused about athletics and the optics of athletics — we are as well. Quite frankly, I think the OSAA is as well.”
Football has an even earlier start date of Feb. 8 but unless the governor’s office has a major turnaround on its restrictions, that’s not going to happen. And if it does, under current guidelines, Philomath wouldn’t be able to field a team with an OSAA requirement that participating schools be back in classrooms.
“The OSAA has consistently said since the fall that you have to have students in your building in some form to be able to participate in athletics,” Athletic Director Tony Matta said.
Football seems like a long-shot to get started on Feb. 8.
“The issue with football is it’s on the governor’s prohibited list,” Matta said. “They are toying with some ideas of modifying football. If we can’t actually play football, can we play 7-on-7 and do some different stuff there.”
Coaches have thrown around the 7-on-7 idea for a while, a no-contact style of play that features only passing. Teams in some parts of the state competed in 7-on-7 in the fall. The OSAA would need to give its stamp of approval.
“I’ve been a proponent of if the governor doesn’t take football off the prohibited list, we need to do things we can do,” Matta said. “I coach football and I want to play football, but if the governor says no, let’s play the other things we can play. Let’s not cancel everything based on these things we’re not allowed to do.”
On Feb. 22, other sports programs would be able to start practice — volleyball, cross-country, boys and girls soccer, dance and cheer. Their seasons are slated to begin March 1.
“Again, there are some restrictions there,” Matta said. “Obviously, volleyball’s an inside sport and the metrics really control what you can do inside.”
Traditional 6-on-6 volleyball is not currently allowed and even when teams we’re allowed to practice in the gym, it was limited to 4-on-4. The teams with the best chance of competing would be those outdoors, although those athletes would be required to wear masks and the number of spectators would be limited.
“Based on the metrics both inside and outside — we’re probably to the point where we would not have spectators,” Matta said. “We’re looking into a couple of things to maybe show or get games on the NFHS Network … we still have some pieces to connect there.”
An issue for boys and girls soccer involves the condition of the field.
“If you’re even talking about starting up these fall sports here coming up, heck folks, our facilities department can’t even put a mower on the soccer field at this time of the year,” Bussard said. “It is that wet, it is that soaked, the same with the football field.”
It’s just another example of the many challenges.
“If we start up, we’re going to run into another whole gambit of hurdles that we’re going to work hard to overcome,” Bussard said. “But there are some real difficulties in the decision-making at the state level concerning athletics.”
Matta said some decisions were expected to come down from the OSAA by the end of this week.
Most PHS teams have been involved in practices of some sort since September and Matta reported that it has gone well.
“We’ve had coaches all year, when we’ve been allowed, working with their teams on a voluntary basis — voluntary for the coaches and voluntary for the student athletes to give them some sense of normalcy,” he said. “I think it’s been good; we’re following all the protocols — temperature-taking and sanitizing equipment and all of that — has gone well.”