In an ideal world, Lowell athletic director Dave Lezenski would have spent Thursday getting ready for the start of the 2020 spring season.
His Red Raiders girls’ lacrosse team originally was scheduled to host Medford in a season opener Thursday evening at Cawley Stadium. Several other schools and teams were slated to jump into spring sports competition Friday, joined by even more across the state by the beginning of next week.
Instead, Massachusetts high school athletic directors are brainstorming and making preliminary plans for trying to salvage some sort of a spring season for their athletes.
“I know it’s awful, the whole population wants to play,” Lezenski said. “But the health and safety of the entire Commonwealth is of the utmost concern to all of us.”
The task became even more challenging following Wednesday’s announcement by Gov. Charlie Baker that schools in Massachusetts could reopen no earlier than May 4 as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Last Friday, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Tournament Management Committee voted to recommend that a start date of no later than April 27 would allow for a condensed regular season, and still give the MIAA the potential to host postseason tournaments.
The MIAA’s Board of Directors is scheduled to meet Monday via conference call to consider the TMC’s recommendation and discuss the parameters of any potential spring season.
“This recent news from the governor is surreal,” the MIAA said in a statement posted Thursday on its web site. “The MIAA will continue to monitor this fluid situation and provide updates regarding spring sports as soon as they are made available.”
In the meantime, athletic directors continue to try to be creative and formulate plans for a possible spring season while facing a situation that remains uncertain and changes on an almost-daily basis.
Wellesley athletic director John Brown said he and his colleagues in the Bay State Conference met Wednesday via conference call before Gov. Baker’s announcement, and are scheduled to meet again Friday to further discuss plans and ideas.
“You try to get yourself in a place where maybe you will be ready to go, then the landscape changes,” Brown said.
Given the new timetable and increased likelihood that an MIAA-sponsored postseason will not happen, athletic directors are looking at a window of no more than six weeks for any semblance of a spring season.
“It’s impossible to make definitive plans right now, but we are brainstorming ideas on how to give the kids, especially the seniors, as positive of an experience as possible,” Whitman-Hanson athletic director Bob Rodgers said.
“In the Patriot League we talk every day at the AD level about all of these moving parts and we are prepared to be creative to turn this tough situation into something positive for our student-athletes.”
Among the conversations between the Bay State Conference athletic directors is the potential of playing a round-robin schedule among the 10 teams in each sport. Brown said there also have been discussions with the Tri-Valley League — whose ADs also met Thursday via video conference — as well as the Hockomock League to develop a postseason tournament of some kind if MIAA playoffs are not possible.
Even with the new best-case scenario, athletic directors would face some tough, unprecedented challenges.
“As ADs, you want to put a schedule together and it's a jigsaw puzzle,” Brown said. “You still have to make it all fit in your facilities.”
Additional obstacles include the availability of officials, particularly with such a compacted schedule and so many teams in the same sport likely playing on the same days, as well as arranging bus transportation for multiple teams.
From a financial standpoint, schools also are facing questions about how to handle coaches’ salaries, as well as user fees for those that charge them.
For coaches the revamped process would include holding tryouts, for as many as 100 candidates in some sports, picking teams and then getting them ready for game competition — all in the span of roughly a week. Then multiply that for the junior varsity and lower levels, as athletic directors look to try to be equitable for as many student-athletes as possible.
Lezenski noted that regardless of what happens, it still will be a raw deal for high school seniors. While the NCAA is considering granting an extra year of eligibility to any current seniors who already have had their spring seasons canceled, the same option isn’t possible for current MIAA student-athletes.
Nonetheless, athletic directors are determined to make the best of the current situation, even if that means continuing to change plans and adjust on the fly.
“I spent a lot of years coaching, and I would tell the kids, ‘Control what you can control, and don't worry about the uncontrollables,’ “ Brown said.
“This is certainly something that is out of all of our control.”