CEDAR RAPIDS — As of 5 p.m. Monday, the Iowa High School Athletic Association planned on having a 2020 prep football season. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, that might have changed.
Who knows? That’s how fluid everything is right now because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Iowa Football Coaches Association Executive Secretary Brian Wilken, head coach and activities director at Newell-Fonda, sent an email to coaches around the state Monday after having an exchange with Iowa High School Athletic Association Executive Director Tom Keating, asking Keating for any information he could give IFCA members about a possible season.
Keating emailed Wilken the IHSAA is in a “study and plan” phase, awaiting specific football guidance from the National Federation of State High School Associations and communicating with the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa Department of Public Health on the matter.
“We have been developing multiple contingency plans for a variety of scenarios,” Keating wrote to Wilken. “Those are still in a ‘draft’ stage and not yet ready to be shared. What I can tell you is they include contingencies for late start, season interruption or season shut down after it starts.
“The challenge, as you know, is trying to keep up with the changing landscape. Although our first practice is a little over four weeks away, so much can change in that time. The recent Big Ten and Ivy League announcements are evidence of that. At this, ‘moment in time’ (a favorite phrase I borrowed) we are planning for a fall sports season which includes football. Until information leads us in another direction, we will continue working on how.”
Iowa was the first state to restart high school sports, conducting baseball and softball seasons that are in their playoff phases. Some teams have had to quarantine for two weeks after having someone test positive for COVID-19 and 15 have had to cancel their seasons.
Still, in general terms, that we apparently will get a full season and state tournament, this experiment, of sorts, has to be considered at least partially a success. Football, however, is a whole other matter as a contact sport.
States such as New Mexico have opted against having a season. Others, such as West Virginia, have come out with safety guidelines in anticipation of a season.
The majority are like Iowa, waiting to see if there will be in-person classes this school year, for one. Waiting to see if a spike in recent positive COVID-19 cases goes back down.
“I appreciate the update from Tom Keating and the work they are doing. It’s a thankless job, no matter how it falls,” said Marion Coach Tim Lovell. “I trust Mr. Keating and his staff to do the right things for our communities and athletes. As we’ve all seen, it’s a very fluid situation. I know that our staff here at Marion wants to play in the worst way this fall, just like everyone else. We just have to be smart and take measures to ensure safety.”
“There is not a doubt in my mind that everybody involved: athletic directors, coaches, the Association, those that are making these calls, are going to do everything in their power to have a football season. Whatever that may look like,” said Lisbon Coach Phil Whitman. “We may have to push the start date to later, we may have to shut down, kind of like what some of these baseball teams are doing right now. You do what you can, fly by the seat of your pants, and hopefully everything turns out all right.”
Coaches in all offseason sports are allowed to work with their athletes, which means there is a lot of strength and conditioning going on. Practice is scheduled for Aug. 10, with the first week of games Aug. 28.
But no one knows if that’s realistic.
“There was basically nothing (in the email) that said we will start on Aug. 10, here are your guidelines. That’s what is frustrating, I guess,” said East Buchanan Coach Jerry Alden. “Normally at this time, I’ve got all of my equipment handed out to players already. That’s done, they’ve got their bags and everything checked out. But now I’m sitting here, I don’t want to hand anything out because there are going to be guidelines on sanitizing helmets, shoulder pads, how long that should be ... But that being said, I’m for whatever they come up with that allows the kids to play.”
Mount Vernon’s Lance Pedersen wondered if flipping fall and spring sports seasons might be the way to go, especially since the NJCAA announced Monday it was playing football and most of its fall sports in the spring. Others weren’t as sure that would be a feasible plan, for multiple reasons.
“No one really has an idea of what is the right thing to do,” Pedersen said. “All of our leaders: from superintendents, to principals, to the state, they are going to try and do what’s best for everyone. Safety is the top priority. On the other hand, I do think it’s important for our kids to get an opportunity to compete. We want to do that the safest way possible.”
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“It’s kind of like what’s going on in the world right now. There is so much unknown,” Whitman said. “How can anybody prepare anything right now without knowing anything (that will go on in the future), you know? I look at us as coaches, we have to prepare ourselves as if we are going to have football. But with the understanding that there might not be football. That’s the scary part.”
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