University Interscholastic League executive director Dr. Charles Breithaupt announced he was considering lifting the organization’s ban on live, Friday night high school football broadcasts for the 2020 season after a two-day teleconference meeting with the UIL’s legislative council, its biannual meeting, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The legislative council mentioned in its meeting notes that action has to be taken to enact the new proposal, but that it supports the notion of making a unique exception to existing UIL regulations as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the state.
The decision, a one-time exception to a long-time UIL rule, would come as a response to the renewed concerns regarding the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, which recently led several school districts throughout the Rio Grande Valley and Texas to cancel, postpone or suspend their on-campus summer strength and conditioning programs.
“I do believe this is a time for us to stand down on our Friday night broadcast rule — not permanently, just for a one-time venture,” Breithaupt said. “Because we know this, there will be many people who stay away because they are fearful, particularly our elderly and our senior citizens. We want to give them a chance to see the game based on what the local district allows. The agreement between two schools to broadcast the game either digitally or on a linear product would exist for just this year. The UIL has no interest in getting involved in those conversations unless you need out assistance. We’re not going to gain one thing from this. It just gives people a chance to see the game that wouldn’t ordinarily come because of COVID-19.”
Breithaupt ultimately has the authority to make the call after the UIL Legislative Council approved a resolution May 1 that gave him power to “alter and/or waive rules in the UIL Constitution and Contest Rules necessitated by any disruption of normal business operations related to COVID-19, orders of the state or federal government, or related COVID-19 concerns,” according to a UIL news release.
The executive director’s move would afford school districts across the state time to coordinate student-operated or district-driven broadcasts or negotiate policies with third parties on a game-by-game basis between schools in advance of the upcoming season.
The UIL has still yet to make any changes to its schedule for the fall in regards to the high school football season with the first day of conditioning for teams of all classification levels still slated for Aug. 3.
In a conference call with media members Tuesday, UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison reiterated the organization’s commitment to playing the forthcoming season as scheduled pending any new developments.
“We are in very close contact with our state leaders, continually working on plans,” he said. “The situation is very fluid and circumstances and information changes, so we have to pivot regularly on our plans.
“I promise everybody on this call and everybody listening: We are absolutely dedicated, as Dr. Breithaupt mentioned, to having seasons this year and getting plans out to schools in time to plan for those activities in an appropriate way just as soon as we can.”
In early June, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that stadiums may reopen at 50% capacity as part of Phase 3 of the state’s plan to reopen.
The UIL’s decision would also affect only football for the upcoming school year, as live broadcasts of all other regular season high school athletics competitions are permitted under existing guidelines.
Under the organization’s existing rules, broadcasts of Friday night high school football games may only be aired or uploaded at least one hour after the conclusion of the contest.
Additionally, the move would only affect live telecasts and digital broadcasts, as live radio broadcasts are already allowed under UIL rules. Live telecasts and digital broadcasts would be required to operate under the same guidelines and procedures ascribed to live radio broadcasts.
The UIL, which owns the live broadcast rights for all postseason competition, will leave decisions relating to broadcasts up to individual schools and school districts for regular season games this season.
“The UIL has no interest in getting involved in those conversations unless you need our assistance,” Breithaupt said. “We’re not going to gain one thing from this. It just gives people a chance to see the game that wouldn’t ordinarily come because of COVID-19.”