The University Interscholastic League (UIL), the state’s governing body for athletics in public schools, released a modified plan for the start of the 2020-21 athletic season Tuesday morning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidelines from the UIL also detail what a Friday night football game may look like this Fall with a 50% maximum capacity and face masks required at all events.

The biggest change from the UIL directly affects Class 5A and 6A schools. While schools in Class 1A through 4A will begin athletic activities as scheduled on Aug. 3, Texas’ 5A and 6A schools have to wait more than a month to begin their athletic seasons.

Instead of Aug. 3, the previously scheduled start date for the first day of practice for all schools, 5A and 6A football and volleyball programs now cannot hold their first day of practice until Sept. 7, over a month later.

5A and 6A volleyball teams can begin games on Sept. 14, while football has to wait  until Sept. 24 to play Week 1 games. The district certification and playoff schedules have also been changed for football and volleyball. The state championships for 5A and 6A volleyball have been pushed back to Dec. 11-12, while football’s state championship games at the 5A and 6A level will be played in January 2021 at a date to be determined. The modified calendar from the UIL can be viewed below.

The Tuesday news release from the UIL states: “These adjustments reflect the public health situation at this time and the varying numbers of COVID-19 cases across different geographic areas of the state. This plan provides a delay for schools in highly-populated metro areas, primarily conferences 5A-6A, given the challenges with COVID-19 those communities are facing, while providing schools in other areas, primarily 1A-4A, an opportunity to start seasons on schedule.

 

UIL modified 2020-21 athletic calendar

For Classes 1A – 4A, the calendar remains the same as Aug. 3 is the first day football and volleyball teams are allowed to practice. Volleyball teams can begin games on Aug. 10, while that date is Aug. 27 for football teams. The district certification and state championship schedule still remains for 1A – 4A football and volleyball schools.

Last week, Hidalgo County and Starr counties released orders stating face-to-face instruction for the 2020-21 school year cannot begin until after Sept. 27 due to the rise of positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the Rio Grande Valley. With no face-to-face instruction allowed until 20 days after the UIL permits 5A and 6A schools to hold their first day of practice, this keeps the start of athletics in the Valley in question for schools of all classes 1A through 6A, not just 5A and 6A.

“Acknowledging the situation is not always clear-cut and that COVID-19 affects every community differently, the plan also allows for local flexibility and encourages districts to plan for possible interruptions in order to complete district seasons,” the UIL stated in a release.

Tennis and cross country postseason schedules have also been pushed back by a month, while basketball season will have a new look, at least for the 2020-21 season.

Late October start dates remain the same for boys and girls basketball teams, but there will be no tournaments or showcases of any kind this year, including the regional tournament. The allowable game limit for the upcoming season has also been moved to 27.

Some of the other big takeaways from the latest guidelines from the UIL, which can be viewed here, is how schools are required to carefully plan for mitigating risk of spread as students and staff participate in extracurricular activities.

Schools may allow spectators to attend games, contests, or events within a maximum 50% capacity limitation, provided that appropriate spacing between spectators is maintained, according to the protocol.

Spectators, audiences, fans and media are required to wear face covering as described in Executive Order GA-29. Sites are encouraged to utilize remote ticketing options to help manage capacity limitations within a maximum 50% occupancy.

Groups should maintain at least six feet of distance from other groups at all times, including the process of admission and seating. A group is defined as no more than 10 people including the members of the household and those persons who traveled together to the facility.

Schools should not allow seating in consecutive rows, and should block off seating to maining a minimum six feet of distance between groups. Schools should also provide hand sanitizing stations, and/or hand washing stations at entrances and inside the facility. Seating, handrails and other common surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected prior to each game or contest.

Schools should limit access to working media providing coverage of the event to ensure protocols are followed.

Student groups such as marching bands, cheerleaders, drill teams, and other groups approved by the school district may attend and perform at games or contests in which they are not competing. Schools should consider limiting the number of participants to those essential to the performance.

“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools,” said UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt. “While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread.”

bramos@themonitor.com