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Committee recommends MIAA drop on-court mask requirement for basketball

Masks are required for basketball, at least for now. If the MIAA accepts the Basketball Committee's recommendation, schools and districts could make their own requirements.Matthew J Lee/Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

During a virtual meeting Wednesday, the MIAA Basketball Committee voted, 15-3, to recommend to the association’s board of directors that basketball players and officials have the option to not wear masks during play.

Currently, the MIAA requires student-athletes to wear masks during indoor sporting events, including during competition.

Based on the recommendation from the basketball committee, players would not have to wear masks while on the court, but still could be required to wear them while on the bench, as would fans and personnel.

State governing bodies, including the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, have recommended masks during athletic competition in alignment with MIAA guidance. So, according to committee chair Jeff Newhall, the board of directors would have the authority to remove the mask mandate.

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DESE recently extended its mask requirement for all K-12 public schools in Massachusetts through February in light of the significant uptick in COVID-19 cases this winter. The mandate allows school officials to lift the requirement before Feb. 28 if they can demonstrate that more than 80 percent of students and staff are vaccinated.

Even if the MIAA board approves the recommendation to remove the requirement for masks during play, individual districts, leagues, and schools would be free to adopt their own requirements for home games.

“On this day, when we’re all fighting the biggest fight we’ve had this academic year with COVID, whether there’s a mask mandate or it’s loosened, it’s still going to be on a school-by-school basis,” said Newhall, the athletic director and girls’ basketball coach at St. Mary’s of Lynn.

“At best, this recommendation will give schools the ability to loosen their requirements.”

▪ The committee opened the meeting by re-affirming the appeals process regarding games postponed or canceled because of COVID. Teams that fail to meet the minimum requirements, or are below the cutoff for the state tournament because of games affected by COVID, will be given the opportunity to appeal for an exception.

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At this time, the committee is unable to change the policy put in place by the MIAA that games scheduled after the Dec. 8 cutoff will not count toward tournament qualification or power ratings.

▪ With the MIAA moving to a statewide tournament this year, playing state semifinals at TD Garden remains up in the air.

Peter Smith, the MIAA basketball committee liaison, said Tsongas Center in Lowell will likely be available to host 10 state finals on the third weekend of March. TD Garden is open for high school competition earlier that week (March 14 and 15) and multiple committee members expressed the desire to keep eight state semifinals at that venue on those dates, even if the other 12 semifinals must be played elsewhere.

Whitman-Hanson athletic director and boys’ basketball coach Bob Rodgers motioned for a vote on recommending that eight boys’ and girls’ basketball games be scheduled for the Garden on those dates, and it passed unanimously.

Now the MIAA’s tournament management committee can determine a process for which semifinals could be scheduled at the Garden. The TMC meets Jan. 20 and could make a formal recommendation to the board of directors, which is scheduled to meet Feb. 9.

“Playing at any of the pro sports venues is something that kids would remember the rest of their lives,” said Rodgers, who has coached Whitman-Hanson to three state semifinals appearances at TD Garden. “I think it has some mystique to it, and I hope we don’t lose it.”

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▪ In further discussion about the state tournament, Newhall proposed a motion to adjust the minimum seating requirements for games in the state quarterfinals.

Current guidelines for host sites in the basketball tournament call for at least 250 seats for the Round of 32, and at least 500 seats for the Round of 16 and the state quarterfinals. In alignment with the requirements for the hockey state tournament, Newhall proposed to recommend at least 1,000 seats be required for state quarterfinals sites.

If the host school is unable to meet that requirement, or find a nearby facility that can seat 1,000 spectators, the contest could be moved to the lower seed, or to a neutral site.