They haven’t even kicked off the first games yet, but this year’s football playoffs in West Virginia are already like no other.
For one thing, there are games scheduled for Sunday. Lots of them. In fact, half of the 24 first-round games are set to be played on Sunday, Nov. 15 as the Secondary School Activities Commission gives counties with high-risk COVID-19 numbers a chance to improve their status.
Five of the eight Class AAA games are scheduled for next Sunday with kickoff times ranging from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., including two games featuring Kanawha Valley schools — No. 11 Hurricane at No. 6 Spring Valley at 1:30 p.m. and No. 15 Ripley at No. 2 South Charleston at 3.
Traditionally, all playoff games are contested either on Friday or Saturday, with the higher-seeded teams getting to choose the approved home field and the lower seed picking the date and kickoff time from three options. But this season has been unlike any other due to COVID-19, and its effects continue to be felt.
The reason for all the Sunday games is that each involves a county that was deemed high risk in the latest Department of Education color-coded map. That map covers in-person classes and school activities for the following week, so counties that were red (highest risk) or orange aren’t permitted to play during that time.
But when the next map comes out at 5 p.m. Saturday, if those counties improve to gold, yellow or green (lowest risk) status, they are eligible to play those games on Sunday afternoon. However, if they don’t get out of red or orange, they can’t play and their opponent advances uncontested, likely another playoff first in the state.
In the latest weekly map, two counties were red (Mineral, Mingo) and nine were orange (Hampshire, Jackson, Lincoln, Marshall, Ohio, Putnam, Tyler, Wood and Wyoming).
The other Sunday AAA games find No. 16 John Marshall at No. 1 Cabell Midland at 1:30, No. 10 Princeton at No. 7 Wheeling Park at 5 and No. 9 Spring Mills at No. 8 Parkersburg at 1:30.
Three Class AA games are also scheduled for next Sunday — No. 14 Independence at No. 3 Frankfort at 5, No. 10 North Marion at No. 7 Keyser at 3 and No. 9 Poca at No. 8 Robert C. Byrd at 5.
Three games in Class A set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday are No. 16 Tygarts Valley at No. 1 Tug Valley, No. 13 Wheeling Central at No. 4 St. Marys and No. 11 Tolsia at No. 6 Williamstown. Kicking off at 3 p.m. is No. 12 Buffalo at No. 5 Midland Trail.
So the teams trying to improve their status are — AAA: John Marshall, Ripley, Hurricane, Wheeling Park and Parkersburg; AA: Frankfort, Keyser and Poca; and A: Tug Valley, Wheeling Central, Buffalo and Williamstown. All are in danger of not being permitted to play their first-round games if they don’t reach at least gold status on Saturday’s WVDE map.
Other first-round games involving Kanawha Valley teams are all set for 7:30 p.m. Friday — No. 13 George Washington at No. 4 Martinsburg (AAA), No. 16 Elkins at No. 1 Sissonville (AA) and No. 13 Herbert Hoover vs. No. 4 Liberty Raleigh (AA) at Woodrow Wilson.
Seven Kanawha Valley teams earned postseason berths this year, the same number as last year.