The fate of winter high school sports, as expected, now rests squarely in the hands of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
During a virtual meeting Thursday, the MIAA Board of Directors unanimously approved its COVID-19 Task Force’s recommendations for the winter season, including the cancellation of 2021 winter tournaments.
By a 20-0 vote, the board agreed with the Tournament Management Committee’s recommendation last week to not hold MIAA-sponsored winter tournaments during the ongoing pandemic. That completes one full calendar year with no MIAA state championships, as basketball and hockey title games were canceled last March at the outbreak of the pandemic, followed by the scrapping of the entire spring 2020 season and then postseason play this fall.
The vote leaves open the possibility for individual leagues and districts to conduct postseason events, as a handful of leagues and pods are doing in the Fall 1 season.
Duxbury athletic director Thom Holdgate, co-chair of the task force, presented five motions outlining how a winter season could look. All passed by 20-0 votes, including recommendations to uphold the board’s previous timeline for a winter season running from Nov. 30 to Feb. 21.
However, all is pending approval from the EEA for individual winter sports and required modifications, then subsequently the individual sport committees, Sports Medicine Committee, and Board of Directors.
Holdgate and Marshfield superintendent Jeffrey Granatino, president of the MIAA, said they expect EEA guidance soon, perhaps by the middle of next week. As part of Holdgate’s motion, the task force may recommend a delay to the Nov. 30 start date if EEA guidance is not received by Nov. 9.
“We’re hopeful that if we do get [EEA guidance] by then, that we can quickly go through and have everything in place for [Nov. 30],” Holdgate said.
Mount Greylock AD Lindsey von Holtz noted that when the board set the new four-season timeline in August, it granted leagues and districts flexibility to move start and end dates as they wished.
“I do know there were conversations regarding moving it off the 30th right from the get-go,” said Holdgate, adding he is aware of some districts already targeting a start after Jan. 1, or considering delaying their start. “We simply wanted to keep the date of the 30th as is for now, because there are parts of the state that believe they can start by the 30th, as long as we get that EEA guidance by the ninth.”
Brookline AD Peter Rittenburg expressed concern about the short turnaround and the time needed to line up a potential winter season.
“It seems an impossible timeline,” Rittenburg said, noting there was a full month in Fall 1 from the receipt of EEA guidance to the official start of the season.
Holdgate agreed it does seem “aggressive,” but that without having to squeeze in postseason play by the Feb. 21 end date, it gives more flexibility during the 12-week window for the winter season.
The board also voted to encourage schools and districts to create schedules within leagues or geographic pods to reduce travel, a format being used statewide during the Fall 1 season.
Noting the limited scheduling options in the Berkshires, von Holtz asked if schools are restricted to playing within Massachusetts only.
“We didn’t discuss that as a piece, as far as crossing the border,” Holdgate said.
Granatino acknowledged the challenge ahead of the board, as was the case during the canceled spring season and the discussions for Fall 1 and beyond, in trying to get athletes back to competition safely.
“We’re on uncharted grounds here,” Granatino said. “Everyone is doing what they feel is in the best interests of our student-athletes … To be able to afford them the chance to take part in these athletic endeavors is huge.”
The board also received an update from the MIAA Finance Committee regarded FY 2020, and the association’s outlook, particularly during the ongoing pandemic. Marco Seidman, CPA, who conducted the audit approved by the Finance Committee, said his firm issued “a clean opinion” of the financial statements.
▪ “Statement of financial position” [as of June 30] — The MIAA had a “very strong current ratio” with assets just under $3.7 million, and liabilities around $382,000. Seidman said liabilities were down as a result of the pandemic hitting with just four months remaining in the fiscal year.
▪ “Statement of activities” — Seidman said revenues and expenses were down, because of the impact of the pandemic. He said the MIAA would have been “several hundred thousand dollars” in the black were it not for a “negative swing” of roughly $600,000 in pension projections.
Seidman said a key to the financial picture is that MIAA officials were proactive in obtaining two loans, including a “paycheck protection loan” in which the large majority of the money borrowed is “forgivable.” However, Seidman said, “the pandemic is having a big effect in the current fiscal year” and that “rainy-day funds” could be depleted without sources of revenue (i.e. tournaments).