The future of fall sports in Arizona became clearer Wednesday as the Arizona Interscholastic Association released a revised schedule.
Boys and girls golf will be the first teams to begin practices, hitting the fairways on Aug. 17 with the first competition slated for Sept. 7. Cross country and swim and dive were pushed back a week to Aug. 24, with official competition beginning Sept. 14. Badminton, fall soccer and volleyball will begin practice on Aug. 31 and games Sept. 14, 16 and 21, respectively.
Football, which poses the biggest risk of virus spread because of the level of physical contact, will now begin official practices on Sept. 7, with the first week of competition on Sept. 30 for freshman and running through Saturday, Oct. 3, for varsity teams.
The AIA previously announced official practices for all sports would begin Aug. 17, with competition for most sports beginning four weeks later on Sept. 11. Aside from golf, all other sports have been pushed back.
“The health and safety of our student participants, coaches, officials and essential personnel, including volunteers, is the primary concern for the return of interscholastic athletics and activities,” AIA Executive Director David Hines said in a release. “We are very grateful to those who share our commitment of a return to these highly beneficial educational activities and athletics.”
The amended schedule comes after a state-wide survey the AIA sent to all of its member schools to identify which schools felt comfortable allowing sports to return during the fall semester. Over 250 schools answered the surveys, most of which were in favor of hosting a fall sports season.
All fall sports will have an amended schedule, which will result in a reduced number of games and later championships. The AIA announced the updated schedules would be revised and released by conference leaders in the coming days or weeks.
Football appears to follow the schedule proposed to Hines and the AIA Monday by the Arizona Football Coaches Association, which called for practices to begin after Labor Day and games the week of Oct. 2 and gained support from more than 100 coaches.
The proposal offered an eight-game schedule with an eight-team postseason tournament for all conferences and the Open Division at the end of the season. It also called for the removal of the Thanksgiving bye week and an optional ninth game for teams that do not make the postseason.
The AIA announced the football season would conclude on Dec. 11 and 12 for the 4A-6A conferences and Open Division, thus eluding to an eight-game regular-season schedule and eight-team playoff format.
The 1A-3A conferences are currently discussing possibilities for the length of regular season and an ideal date to host state championship games, according to the AIA. It is unclear if the AIA will allow teams who do not make the postseason to schedule other non-qualifiers at the end of the season as the AzFCA proposed.
“We owe it to our members to provide a direction,” said Toni Corona, the Executive Board President and Safford Athletic Director. “It may be challenging to get everything going for all the schools at one time but with good communication, we can provide the best possible experience for our students in this unprecedented time. This Board and the AIA staff will continue to provide information and guidelines as we proceed.”
Especially for football, the timeline will allow schools who are still restricted from participating in summer workouts on campus to be ready for the start of the season.
Gilbert, Mesa, Chandler, Scottsdale, Higley and Tempe Union districts have allowed teams to return to campus for workouts in some capacity. Most of which remain in the first phase of their respective district’s return-to-play guidelines, which calls for conditioning drills.
Gilbert was the first to make such a move. Tempe Union made the move this past week and announced it would have a full discussion on sports with its governing board on Aug. 18.
However, schools in other parts of the Valley just recently started summer workouts. Phoenix Union schools were restricted from any activities up until two weeks ago. Brophy announced it would not move past phase one until September. Schools in southern Arizona are still unable to work out.
“Although the many school districts represented in the AzFCA membership have issued varying rules within their districts, the proposed October 2 date of first varsity competition appears to provide the schools with the sufficient opportunity to comply with district guidelines and adequately prepare their teams for a full competition season,” the proposal from the AzFCA read.
The AIA stressed this new timeline is subject to change based on guidance from national, state or local health officials.
The amended fall schedule, if it stands, will result in a week delay to the start of winter sports. At this time, it’s unclear whether it will have an effect on the spring season, which was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We would like to thank our member schools and our school communities for their patience as we worked through the challenges to develop this plan,” Hines said.