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NFHS Leader Addresses COVID-19 Hot Topics in Webinar

July 29, 2020 / Athletic Administration
During a webinar with the national media earlier this week, Dr. Karissa Niehoff, the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), touched on a variety of topics as it pertains to high school sports and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In conjunction with her address, Dr. Niehoff shared an infographic that marked the 2020-21 sports calendar modifications. It showed that 27 state associations have made no changes or alterations to its fall sports schedule while 24 others have made some changes — including six that have shifted the football season to the 2021 spring season.

She remarked on a general level that football will be delayed across the country with California, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, Washington, and Washington D.C. already announcing that no football will be played in the fall.

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The better part of the webinar was conducted in a Q&A format on many other pressing issues involving high school sports and the coronavirus. Below is an excerpt from that Q&A session.

How realistic is it to believe high school sports can resume this season without testing for athletes and staff?

Karissa Niehoff: I think we need to be clear about what type of testing when we talk about testing. We’re seeing our schools in our co-curricular programs look at the thermometer, a non-contact temperature check and you’ve probably seen those devices to monitor the temperature. Obviously, we know that a lot of our COVID-19 carriers may be asymptomatic. I think what we will see as we phase into school and activity is some form of on-site testing with regard to temperature check; we’ll see our students as they’re in classrooms wearing masks; and we’ll see socially distancing in the classroom, maybe even using outdoor facilities and gymnasiums as those classrooms.

If kids are back on campus, we will likely see a phase-in certainly to sports like cross country, golf, tennis – in some states, those individual sports are in the fall, other states they’re in the spring. More full-contact sports like football, I think we will see a delay. Is it likely that we will be playing football as we’ve previously scheduled it to be, without testing, without mitigation? I don’t know. Each individual state will be making those decisions. I think, quite frankly, we are in a pattern of delay for the higher-risk sports like football, whereas other sports will engage in more traditional competition earlier.

We certainly are seeing state associations developing action plans for how to isolate and ultimately quarantine any positive tests. I think we will see a phase-in approach closely aligned with whether or not kids will be back in classrooms. Tomorrow afternoon, we have another roundtable with executive directors (of each state association). We will be discussing strategies for actually implementing sport if, in fact, kids are not back into classrooms. Probably talking about outdoor sports if they’re not in fact with one another in an indoor (classroom) setting. We’re greatly concerned about the cancellation we’re already seeing about marching bands, so we’re watching our performing arts opportunities as well.

How concerned are state associations about the prospect of not being able to play football in the fall given its financial importance and is this a concern for the long-term health of high school sports?

Karissa Niehoff: State associations are very concerned. When we surveyed our states before the end of the calendar school year, we heard from our state associations that just with the loss of winter and spring championships, we were seeing a $100,000 to $150,000 (loss) all the way up to the excess of a $2 million loss to state association revenues. If there are no fall championships, say in football, some (state associations) will be pretty dire straits financially and absolutely having to dip into reserves to fund championships going forward at least for a year. This is not a one-year problem. If there are no fall championships and no fall sports for our schools and districts, there are revenue impacts there that go far beyond this one calendar year. So we are very concerned from a financial perspective, but we’re also concerned from a community perspective. We’re advocating at a federal level for any bill that would support back funding education itself, not just focusing on supporting youth sports. We’re really looking at funding for school districts, out of which comes co-curricular activities for schools.

When you meet with state association leaders, what are your observations on how they’re meeting these challenges: Are you seeing an angst, a tenacity, a commitment – what do you see from them?

Karissa Niehoff: Yes – to all of it. There’s an angst. There’s an anxiety, and it’s not all about finances. We have weekly webinars with our state executive directors and commissioners. Nobody yet has talked about money – nobody. What everyone has talked about repeatedly is how to be creative in getting kids back, to getting collaboration and consensus around being able to bring kids back statewide and what that looks like even within a state that’s different. And how, if it’s different, can we still have kids proceed through a season to potentially a championship? For example, if a baseball team in Iowa has a positive case and they have to quarantine, is that a forfeit? No, it’s just not a game on the schedule. They couldn’t help that. So our state associations are looking at ways to talk with schools, to talk with athletic directors, to talk with coaches and officials, to best educate everybody and bring everybody to the table to say, ‘All right, how can we bring some common sense to this commitment that we have? What might this look like? Where can we bend? What can we bring? What can we do to fill in these gaps?’

» ALSO SEE: Where All 50 States Stand on Football Returning

Our commissioners and executive directors are not saying, ‘I’m out,’ at all. They are not saying, ‘I want to pull the plug.’ They want to go forward, and if it means we wait until January and condense our seasons, we’re going to do it. If it means we flip football to the spring, fall sports to the spring – which Virginia just did – we want to make sure that we support our schools in a way that we can still play.

To get further information and details from the NFHS, head over to its website by clicking here