Soon after the Northeastern Conference decided to shift fall sports to the MIAA’s newly-created Fall 2 season — scheduled to run from Feb. 22 to April 25, 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic — the Patriot League is planning for a condensed, regional schedule for all fall sports aside from football and competitive cheer.
Per Duxbury athletic director Thom Holdgate, there will be an 11-game regular season schedule for girls’ and boys’ soccer, girls’ volleyball, boy’s golf, and field hockey, and a five-race regular season for cross country with an additional three weekend meets.
Schedules will be limited to a maximum of two games per week (golf may play three games per week) and volleyball may be played as a triple-header at some schools. All schedules include a home and away games between the league’s Keenan and Fisher divisions, and the schedules for girls’ soccer, girls’ volleyball, and field hockey include crossover games with Notre Dame Academy (Hingham).
“One of the things we’ve been discussing all summer is that the schools that are in smaller leagues or geographically distant may be unable to find games,” Holdgate said. “The thought was [adding NDA] would help them get a league schedule … At the end of the day, we’re really trying to create as many experiences for our kids as possible.”
There is a postseason plan for volleyball, soccer, and field hockey to play double-elimination tournaments from Nov. 9 to Nov. 21 for the Patriot Cup. Holdgate said the idea for a Patriot Cup has been under consideration for several years, and the MIAA Board of Directors request for regionalized schedule, combined with the cancellation of any statewide tournament, prompted the league to explore that possibility.
“We’re definitely expecting things to be done a lot differently than we’re used to,” said Holdgate, who is also the co-chair of the MIAA’s COVID-19 Task Force.
“Our league thought is if we can play the sport now [in the fall], let’s play it. You saw how quickly things shut down in spring. If a sport gets moved and cancelled, I feel awful for the kids involved. For kids who haven’t [played sports] in six months, we’re hoping this could help them mentally.”
In accordance with guidelines from state health offices, individual sport committees have presented a list of modifications to the MIAA COVID-19 Task Force, which will be sent to the association’s board of directors for approval by Monday. Member schools will then have the option to play fall sports under those modifications, or postpone individual sports to the Fall 2 period.
The following modifications were presented for boys’ and girls’ soccer:
- Four quarters with a two-minute break between each.
- Players, coaches, and officials are required to wear masks.
- No slide tackling, intentionally heading of the ball, or shoulder-to-shoulder contact allowed.
- No throw-ins, no defensive walls, and all players must be six feet apart on restarts.
Masphee’s Matt Triveri is one of many athletic directors to express concern that soccer will be difficult to play under those modifications.
“I don’t know how you can play soccer without any shoulder contact,” said Triveri.
“My boys’ and girls’ [soccer] coaches have their concerns, and we’re potentially looking at moving [soccer] to the Fall 2 season. But the problem for a school of our size, is we have nothing but grass fields, so I don’t know how we could practice or play games [in late winter.”
“If it can be played [in the fall] it needs to be played, but it’s tough for schools to make that decision in a short amount of time.”
Triveri added that while the South Shore League initially voted to play girls’ volleyball in the fall, that decision may be revisited when the league next convenes.
Modifications require volleyball competitions to take place outdoors, which is logistically challenging for schools without turf fields. All girls’ volleyball teams in Districts 2 and 3 (primarily the Central Mass. region) have decided to postpone their season to the Fall 2 period.
Sports that are able to be played this fall may conclude with a “crossover” final against neighboring leagues. Triveri said there have been preliminary discussions regarding regional finals between South Shore League, South Coast Conference, Cape & Islands, and Patriot League schools of like enrollment.
Those leagues, and others, have also held preliminary discussions about holding intramural 7-on-7 football leagues, but will have to wait for guidance from state officials regarding the status of that activity, as well as guidance from the MIAA on whether playing intramural football this fall could preclude a school from playing interscholastic football during the Fall 2 season.
The Mid-Wach plan
The Midland-Wachusett League, which encompasses 26 schools in Central Mass., approved cross country and boys’ golf competition for the Fall 1 season, as well as boys’ and girls’ soccer, and field hockey, pending approval of those sport modifications by the MIAA.
“The Midland-Wachusett League strongly believes that interscholastic athletics can play a vital role in re-engaging our students as we seek to get back to school and to some sense of normalcy,” the league wrote in a joint letter from member athletic directors. “A functioning athletic program will aid in rebuilding the interpersonal connections that would fundamentally support the implementation of any of the proposed academic instructional models.
“In the quest to educate the whole student, it cannot be overstated enough that interscholastic athletics can foster profound and positive social and emotional health outcomes in our collective communities.”
The letter also noted the Mid-Wach is working on “a modified geographic pod-based competitive structure … in conjunction with all Central Massachusetts playing schools.”
The Central Mass. Athletic Directors Association voted last week to push all girls’ volleyball competition to the Fall II season, tentatively scheduled to begin in late February.
Elsewhere, the Pittsfield School Committee voted 7-0 Wednesday to push all fall sports at the city’s two high schools – Pittsfield High, and Taconic – to the Fall II season.
Connecticut forges ahead
After a month of discussion with state public health officials and member schools, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) decided to move forward with all fall sports, including football and girls’ volleyball.
The state’s Department of Health continues to recommend modifications for football, such as a 7-on-7 format with minimal contact, and for volleyball to be played outdoors, but CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini announced Thursday the association’s plan for those sports to take place without modifications.
“Our plan will be fluid,” Lungarini said during Thursday’s press conference. “It will change as the information changes, metrics change, and we will continue to monitor the information from our offices as well as speaking with our stakeholders and medical experts along the way.”
The current guidelines allow for restricted practices with cohorts of 10 or fewer student-athletes until Sept. 21, for scrimmages starting Sept. 26, and competitions beginning Oct. 1. A small increase in COVID-19 cases in given communities would require practices to move back to small cohorts, and a large increase could result in the suspension of athletics.
Lungarini maintained that the association is not at odds with the DPH, but is keeping all options open for as long as possible.
“What we’re just asking for is the benefit of time to work before we make decisions that we know are going to have a negative impact on kids,” said Lungarini.
“Let’s move in the direction of trying to give them as much as we can until the point that COVID tells us we can’t.”
Correspondent Jim Clark also contributed.