(The Center Square) – The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Board of Directors voted 11-5 on Friday to allow fall sports practices to begin Aug. 24, with seasons, including football, to start Sept. 4.
The board, meeting in-person in Gainesville, was presented with three options and chose the Aug. 24 proposal, which presented the earliest start date.
The vote is a huge victory for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had lobbied FHSAA to get fall sports rolling as soon as possible as part of his push to reopen schools this month.
By late Friday afternoon, DeSantis had not issued a formal comment but did retweet news reports of the vote, accompanied by the hashtag #WeWantToPlay.
Schools can opt out of fall sports altogether or withdraw from inter-school competition by Sept. 18.
"Not everyone's going to be the same with this situation, because of what's in front of us,” Hialeah Gardens High School Athletic Director Carlos Ochoa said. "The reality is that the unknown has been there, it's here today, and we don't know how long it will continue to be a part of us.”
The board opted for an Aug. 24 start despite recommendations from its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC), which wanted athletics pushed back to at least Sept. 28, and its Athletic Directors Advisory Committee (ADAC), which called for fall seasons to begin with practices on Nov. 30 practices and games starting Dec. 14.
FHSAA met three times in June and July to develop a fall sports plan, agreeing practices could begin as planned July 27, with seasons starting Aug. 20.
At an emergency meeting July 20, however, it agreed to delay seasons until October or November after the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth-largest school district, threatened to leave the association if it did not delay the fall season.
Anticipating the reversal, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools board voted unanimously Wednesday to consider withdrawing from FHSAA.
“The 11-5 decision of the FHSAA, as well as the lengthy discussion, further confirm the importance of local authority and decision-making,” Miami-Dade County Public Schools board Vice Chairman Dr. Steve Gallon III told the Miami Herald. “It also reinforces and undergirds my previous position that for Miami-Dade and other south Florida districts, such organization, operation and oversight may be best served outside of the FHSAA and within a more regional, local and equitable structure.”
The decision came with ample trepidation, even by those who voted for it.
"If we start and then we have to stop again, then we're really in trouble," Miami Riviera Prep Athletic Director Mark Schusterman said.
Guidelines crafted by SMAC call for communities to meet specific standards before local schools can compete against schools from other communities. The board did not formally adopt them but will consider doing so in coming weeks. Among them:
• A seven-day rolling average for new-case positivity percentage below 5 percent for at least 14 days;
• An “Effective Reproduction number,” which SMAC Chairwoman Dr. Jennifer Maynard said is a statistic projecting the number of expected infections from each positive case, that must be lower than one for at least 14 days.
Maynard warned none of the state’s 67 counties has fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 population, and 24 counties would not meet that standard today.
• New cases per 100,000 in a population to be showing a downward trend for at least 14 days.
SMAC recommended no sports for any part of the state until after several weeks had elapsed after the start of school. Many schools have delayed opening, although most will do so by Aug. 31.
"Until this virus is given the respect it deserves to quiet down, introducing sports adds fuel to the fire," Maynard said.