On Tuesday, the UIL revealed its much-anticipated plans for the 2020-21 school year, delaying the start of the athletics calendar for the state’s 6A and 5A high schools.
Speculation has waged for months on the state’s approach to the upcoming school year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With the spread of the virus forcing local orders to close campuses until at least Sept. 8 in a number of major metropolitan areas around the state such as Dallas, Houston, Austin and El Paso — where many of the UIL’s largest high schools are located — the UIL has put its two largest classifications on a separate timeline from schools in classes 1A through 4A.
Modified UIL Activities Calendar & COVID-19 Guidelines for 2020-2021 School YearPress Release ⬇️https://t.co/sv3boFOD43Full COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Guidelines ⬇️https://t.co/o3qFFIZxrFMore COVID-19 Information ⬇️https://t.co/lE7fRyRbWY pic.twitter.com/vuWybpYVQ8— Texas UIL (@uiltexas) July 21, 2020
Per Tuesday’s announcement, the start of high school football and volleyball’s schedule is being shifted into September for 5A and 6A programs. Those teams will now start practices on Sept. 7 with the first day of games scheduled for Sept. 14 for volleyball and Sept. 24 for football. Team tennis and cross country have their first matches and meets scheduled to begin Sept. 7.
“These adjustments reflect the public health situation at this time and the varying numbers of COVID-19 cases across different geographic areas of the state,” the UIL said in Tuesday’s press release. “This plan provides a delay for schools in highly-populated metro areas, primarily conferences 5A-6A given the challenges with COVID-19 those communities are facing, while providing schools in other areas, primarily 1A-4A, an opportunity to start seasons on schedule.”
The UIL added that “this plan also allows for local flexibility and encourages districts to plan for possible interruptions in order to complete district seasons.”
"We're excited. Our schedule got moved back a month," said Scott Head, Lake Dallas ISD athletic director. "We're going to get to be able to play all 10 games (football) and volleyball gets to play their whole season. It'll be good."
The schedules for the state’s smaller high schools, in classifications 1A-4A such as Argyle, Celina and Sunnyvale, are unchanged for the time being. Fall practices begin Aug. 3 for football and volleyball teams, with volleyball programs beginning matches on Aug. 10 and football season kicking off Aug. 27. Small schools with cross country and tennis programs begin Aug. 17.
“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools,” said Dr. Charles Breithaupt, UIL executive director, via press release. “While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread.”
“We knew they have been discussing several different options and several different calendars and everybody wants to know what is going to happen, but every day the situation changes,” added Cliff Odenwald, Garland ISD director of athletics. “They were finally able to release that calendar and I’m glad they did because now it gives us an opportunity to put together the best and most accurate plan to protect the safety of the kids and the coaches.”
Though the UIL did not directly discuss options with school athletic directors and coaches, Odenwald brings a unique insight into what have might be going on behind closed doors. Odenwald was just a couple of months into his tenure as UIL Director of Athletics when the H1N1 flu, also known as the swine flu, put the high school athletics world on hold in April of 2009.
Working in conjunction with state government bodies, Odenwald and the UIL were asked to develop several different plans, much like officials have had to do to address the current pandemic.
In response to the swine flu, the UIL opted to suspend all extracurricular activities on Apr. 29, but they had a more fortunate result, as they were able to resume the spring sports on May 11 and complete the seasons.
While it worked out then, Odenwald said they had several different contingency plans, and he said he would not be surprised if there are more changes in the coming weeks.
“It is going to be a work in progress, but safety of the students is the priority first and foremost,” Odenwald said. “We have a directive we have to abide by, but we are also in somewhat of a holding pattern because this could go down to the last minute."
In addition to delaying the start to athletics for 5A and 6A schools, the UIL is shifting the dates for its state championships in those respective sports as well. The state volleyball tournament for 5A and 6A will take place Dec. 11-12 and football’s state championships are to be determined in January 2021. The state meets for team tennis (Nov. 11-12) and cross country (Dec. 5) are the same for all classifications.
“We are just going to scramble here and figure out what we've got to do during and after virtual learning, but I think this plan is great if we can do it because it allows a lot of flexibility since every school can’t start at the same time,” said Shawn Pratt, McKinney ISD athletic director. “Now we have to get the respective district executive committees to talk about if we want to play a full preseason schedule or put more flexibility into the district schedule. In McKinney, unless Oklahoma and Arkansas schools start when we start, those non-district games will be killed.”
Currently, most high schools have been conducting limited summer workouts since June 8 in anticipation of the start of the school year. For 5A and 6A schools, the UIL stated that sport-specific skill work can continue with the current regulations in place through Aug. 3 when it’ll then increase to two hours per day per sport.
Two hours of sport-specific training will stay in effect through Sept. 7 for fall sports.
In the lead up to the September start for 5A and 6A football programs that have offered strength and conditioning workouts since Aug. 24 and have not been shut down through Sept. 7, teams will begin their acclimatization period on Sept. 7 and will be afforded one scrimmage from Sept. 17-19 prior to starting the season on Sept. 24-26. Schools will have 11 weeks to play a full regular season of 10 games.
The UIL's decision follows last week's announcement by Dallas County that mandated all public and private schools within its borders cannot hold in-person instruction or extracurricular activities until Sept. 8. Among the local UIL schools impacted are Coppell, Mesquite ISD and Garland ISD.
"Dallas County says we can't do anything until September 8th. Everyone else in our school district is working out their kids," said Mike DeWitt, Coppell head football coach. "That's a little bit frustrating, but they don't control what county they live in. It is what it is."
Under the current revisions, football’s postseason will begin Dec. 10-12 for 5A and 6A, while 1A-4A remain on course to start its playoffs Nov. 12-14. Volleyball playoffs begin Nov. 19-21 in 5A and 6A and Oct. 29-31 in 1A-4A.
For all contests, the UIL said that schools may allow fans to attend events with a maximum of a 50% capacity limitation, provided that appropriate spacing is maintained.
The UIL also amended parts of its basketball schedule, ruling no tournaments or showcases, including the regional tournament, for the 2020-21 season. Teams will be afforded two scrimmages before beginning interschool games Nov. 6 (girls ) and Nov. 13 (boys).
“Everyone was just looking forward to hoping we’d have a season and getting the direction and the dates of how to map this out and plan," said Terry Gambill, Allen head football coach. "We’ve got the information and now we know what direction we’re headed. It at least gives you an opportunity to plan and see what you can get done up to that first day of practice.”
-Kendrick E. Johnson and David Wolman contributed to this story