Reaction: Gov. Whitmer suggests MHSAA switches fall, spring seasons

7/1/2020 | Column | By Bryce Derouin

W ith the state of the high school sports season in flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently proposed an alternative schedule: move select fall sports to the spring, and have traditional spring sports take place this fall.

Whitmer’s suggestion would delay the upcoming football season to the spring.

“I’m also calling on the Michigan High School Athletic Association to postpone fall sports that have the impossibility of social distancing as a part of them, and consider moving those to the spring,” she said during Tuesday’s press conference, “and running some of the more individualized sports like track and field, tennis or golf, to the fall. I anticipate a decision coming from them; somewhere around July 20 to 25 is what they indicated.”

The timeframe in which Whitmer expects a decision from the MHSAA comes three weeks before the currently scheduled first practice date of Aug. 10. Games would officially begin on Aug. 27.

Whitmer’s proposal comes on the heels of certain areas in the state experiencing increased risks of COVID-19. Lansing has been deemed “High Risk” and moved down to Phase 2 in Michigan’s Safe Start Plan, while Grand Rapids is now classified as “Medium-High Risk” and in Phase 3. The delay of organized team sports could allow more time for the rest of the state to catch up to the UP and northern lower peninsula in terms of the current low-risk classification in those areas. Currently, the UP and northern LP are in Phase 5, known as “Containing.” 

Here are some quick takeaways from Whitmer’s recent comments:

Instant Reaction

That noise you hear is the MHSAA scrambling to make the logistics work for switching the spring and fall sports seasons. As it stands, it’s unlikely this will not take place. What is the MHSAA going to do? Ignore the governor’s claim and say, “We got this. Don’t worry.”? Yeah, that’s not going to work. 

It may be the best solution for the MHSAA. They have had a difficult decision ahead of them with the entire state experiencing different levels of risk to COVID-19. The UP and other portions of the state in Phase 5 could see a return to normalcy quicker than high-risk areas but handling that going forward on a normal schedule would still be a challenge. Would the MHSAA give the go-ahead for team sports in the UP and the northern LP, but make the high-risk areas wait? Or would it cancel or postpone fall team sports and risk angering the areas where COVID-19 is not as much a threat? 

Waiting until the entire state gets a better handle on the pandemic seems to be the best option, and switching the major team sports such as football and volleyball to the fall would be the most fitting move.

Basketball Impact

Moving football and volleyball to the spring may have a positive impact on the quality of play in the upcoming winter basketball seasons (Hell, if we get them. That disclaimer goes without saying, but still). I can’t speak on volleyball practice —  I’ve never taken part in one — but football’s move to the spring could allow more time for people to work on their individual basketball skills. Track and field and golf practices are not as strenuous or time-consuming as football, and the extra time may propel more basketball players to get shots up or hone their skills with more workouts. Of course, the top basketball players who play football typically found time to get shots up during football season, but without football in the fall, we could see players dedicate more of their time this fall to basketball. We may even see fall basketball leagues start up. 

For schools like Calumet and Iron Mountain — both featured strong fall programs — they won’t have to worry about deep tournament runs interfering with the start of their winter seasons. A year ago, Iron Mountain football reached the state semifinals, and Calumet earned a regional final berth. Their success would push back the beginning of Iron Mountain’s basketball season and Calumet’s hockey campaign. Meanwhile, the Calumet volleyball program regularly earns regional berths, delaying the start of its girls basketball season. But with those sports being pushed to the spring, these delays in the winter would be nonexistent. 

The biggest difference in spring football may be the weather. And while it may be impossible to predict spring forecasts in the UP — it could be snowing, or it could be 80 degrees and sunny — the opportunity of less inclement weather could open up more aerial attacks in 2021. 

UP teams pride themselves on their ability to get downhill and run the ball down defense’s late into fall when it can be cold and wet. But with the end of a spring season likely to have more clear weather, passing teams could flourish later in the season than they would have in the fall. 

One team that could take advantage is Marquette. As a sophomore, Austin Ridl was one of the top passers in the UP, assisting Marquette to a GNC title and playoff appearance. It’s only natural to expect Marquette’s aerial attack to thrive with better passing conditions, and it will be worth monitoring to see if other teams deploy more passes later in the season than normal.

Could football numbers increase?

If you’re from the central UP, you know of at least one person who skipped out on football saying: “I’m saving myself for basketball.”

Basketball typically reigns supreme in that part of the UP and players have sat out football in order to preserve themselves for basketball — or at least used that as their reasoning to not play football. Traditionally, spring sports have been something that kids have done just so they had something to do. Of course, you have exceptions like the Gladstone and Escanaba softball and baseball programs, and the stellar individual runners or golfers. But for the rest, spring sports are seen as more laid back and social compared to the competitiveness we see in volleyball, football, basketball and hockey. Moving football to the spring puts a marquee sport in a part of the year that’s traditionally been more relaxed. The move could push more people to play that otherwise would have sat out in the fall.

“I’m also calling on the Michigan High School Athletic Association to postpone fall sports that have the impossibility of social distancing as a part of them, and consider moving those to the spring."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

What happens with baseball, softball, and cross country?

In the clip, Whitmer doesn’t mention what could happen with baseball and softball. Whether she sees those team sports as having the ability to social distance remains to be seen. If so, we could get fall baseball. Otherwise, it will create an interesting dynamic when baseball and softball are going on at the same time as football and volleyball. Deciding what sports athletes will be eligible to play will be worth following.

It will also be interesting to monitor what would happen with cross country. Does this mean cross country and track and field would take place at the same time in the fall? Or will cross country be moved to the spring, despite it being one of the sports that can follow social distancing guidelines? 

All of these questions are natural reactions to Whitmer’s latest comments. We have just under a month until we should know more from the MHSAA.

Bryce Derouin

Bryce is a co-founder of Upbeat. He earned his journalism degree from Grand Valley State and served as the sports editor for three years at the Daily Mining Gazette in Houghton after working one year as a sports reporter at the Daily Press in Escanaba.


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