The Arizona Interscholastic Association announced Friday the winter sports season, initially scheduled to start Jan. 5, has been pushed back two weeks to Jan. 18.
The decision comes as hospital metrics in Maricopa County and the state continue to rise due to the latest surge in COVID-19 cases in Arizona. The latest metrics show hospital Intensive Care Units are at 90 percent capacity. According to models from health experts, ICU units are at risk of exceeding 100 percent capacity in the coming weeks.
“Our focus continues to be on keeping students in school and on the playing field safely,” Associate Executive Director Joe Paddock said in the release. “We believe this decision will help us preserve the winter sports season.”
The AIA Executive Board voted to push back the season two additional weeks in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. The AIA said the delay would also allow teams to practice for two weeks after students return from winter break, which most schools begin on Monday, Dec. 21.
The same guidelines and recommendations from the AIA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee will remain in place once the season begins. With those recommendations, the winter sports season will not stop once it begins unless state health or government officials order all extracurricular activities to suspend operations.
The recommendations, which were established in December, will allow teams to begin competition on Jan. 18 regardless of what key COVID-19 metrics used to determine the start of fall sports show. The metrics will only be used to determine whether fans are able to attend competitions. At this time, the metrics call for empty stands.
The AIA said conferences will be given the opportunity to decide the total number of weeks of competitions for winter teams. That decision will be made in the next couple of weeks, according to the AIA. The winter sports season will conclude on March 5, with the spring season beginning March 1.
Conferences will have the ability to modify the length of the spring season.
“These measures will allow us to start the season and I hope, that as we see hospitalizations go down, some of the restrictions regarding spectators, be lifted,” Executive Director David Hines said in the release.