Gov. Jim Justice and WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan aren’t wrong when they say it’s important to have a plan for fall sports amid the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s worth examining how realistic such a plan is, especially at a time when West Virginia leads the nation in the rate of people infected by individuals carrying COVID-19.
The plan was unveiled at the same Friday briefing during which the governor threatened to shut down bars in Monongalia County because of a spike in cases related to a refusal to wear masks (something Gov. Justice mandated on Monday). Dolan said practices for fall sports, which normally would have started the first week in August, will now begin Aug. 17. Gov. Justice already pushed public and private school openings back to Sept. 8. High school football would start Thursday, Sept. 3, Dolan said.
We have to wonder how a sport involving 22 players on the field at a time, in constant physical contact, will work while a pandemic that spreads through microscopic droplets entering the eyes and nose is prevalent. Will there be fans in the stands? If so, will mask-wearing and social distancing be enforced? What about travel? An entire high school football roster on a bus together for longer than 15 minutes seems problematic, which is only compounded by getting off the bus to take the field in another town against another team.
Soccer and volleyball pose some of the same problems. Golf seems less troubling. The PGA is playing now. Participants would be spread out and outdoors, and travel is less worrisome.
Dolan said there may have to be canceled games if there’s a growth of cases on a certain team or in a certain community. He theorized that, in high school sports, communities can keep better control over who has been where or exposed to what. But all it takes is one case for a very bad situation to develop.
West Virginia could be in a different place by Aug. 17 or Sept. 3, but, right now, case numbers are climbing rapidly. COVID-related deaths in West Virginia have held steady for a week, but they’re escalating elsewhere.
High school athletics are important to the athletes, the schools and the surrounding communities. Putting a plan in place to have those sports in the fall offers hope. But at this point, it’s not a realistic hope. It’s more of a placeholder to be pushed back at a later date.