It will be Sept. 14, at the earliest, before a fall sports calendar can begin.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, acting upon the recommendation of its COVID-19 Task Force, agreed Tuesday to move the start of all fall sports programs to that date. The MIAA Board of Directors approved by an 18-0 vote to “have the fall athletic seasons start after school begins,” in support of the MIAA Sports Medicine Committee recommendation.

“It was the right decision to be made, they had to do it,” Norton High Athletic Director Aaron Sumner said of the MIAA’s decision. “Let’s just hope that we have something.”

Sumner and other Tri-Valley League athletic directors were meeting almost weekly to discuss various parameters if a spring season were to resume and then whether a fall sports calendar could be created.

“We were kind of waiting for a decision (by the MIAA) before we had another meeting,” Sumner said.

Now, there is a new target date for student-athletes, coaches and administrators.

“It’s the appropriate thing to do, to see how kids can acclimate to school,” Bishop Feehan High Athletic Director Christian Schatz said. “It would have been pretty daunting if they hadn’t of done that.”

Superintendents, principals and athletic directors were reluctant in their responses to an MIAA survey to have student-athletes serve as a testing ground for safety issues before an actual academic starting date for the 2020-21 calendar could be established.

“You just have to wait until the ruling comes down, in part that’s why they (MIAA) wanted to delay it too,” Schatz said of the Bishop Feehan program following state guidelines. Schatz and the Shamrocks remain hopeful that some semblance of a fall sports calendar can be created, even if it means starting a season on Oct. 1.

“Hopefully, this leads to something, we’re planning on a football schedule,” Schatz said. “Hopefully, we can make a more educated decision and let these kids can play.”

An update was provided by the MIAA subcommittee working with representatives from the Governor’s Staff, infectious disease professionals and public health officials. When utilizing “return to play” guidelines from other states, the focus will be on the surrounding states, not what states in the South, Midwest and West are contemplating.

“Getting the kids back to school is the priority, absolutely,” Attleboro High Athletic Director Mark Houle, said.

Houle and Hockomock League athletic directors have been meeting on virtually a weekly basis since the spring sports calendar was canceled.

The league’s ADs have compiled various alternatives for a return to competition, including just league games, perhaps an Oct. 1 start for competition.

“The fall schedules are done and most through the winter too,” Houle said of his calendar, certainly to be changed.

“Now we have to go back to the drawing board on the fall and say now the new starting date is Sept. 14 and we have to work from that date forward. And what would be the starting date for the first games? Some seasons might really be condensed. That will impact schedules and there will be a lot of discussion on having just league games and no non-league games.

“We have to make sure that we stay on top of it (the MIAA edict),” Houle added. “I know in the spring, we had like five different plans before everything was finally canceled. Already plan No. 1 (for fall sports) is going to get scrapped down. Now we have to look at plan No. 2 and work through it.”

North Attleboro High Athletic Director Kurt Kummer commented “that we have to get back to school first before we can begin athletics.”

Instead of student-athletes reporting to school to begin training, for equipment to be issued to the football team, sports has become secondary to safety in these pandemic times.

“We tried to give them (MIAA) options in June because we knew that it would be like this,” Kummer said of various proposals for the commencement of a fall sports season.

According to a survey presented to member principals and athletic directors, any number of questions were posed to the Task Force for the safety and protocol for student-athletes. Nearly 300 secondary school administrators responded with comments.

“How to properly and safely maintain social distancing when the guidelines seem to change daily/weekly,” said one athletic director. “How does it then pertain to athletics?

“We are currently being asked to keep students at least three feet away from each other. How feasible is this? Are we being set up to fail? Will the three foot “rule” apply to athletics or is it going to be a recommendation? If the rule applies, golf is most likely the only fall sport that can be played and regulated properly.”

According to a survey of 637 coaches, 43 percent were confident that a regular season could be conducted, and 45 percent agreed that games could be scheduled.

Among the coaches, 36 percent questioned the length of a season and 62 percent questioned concerns for having fans in attendance at games.

Kummer said that in his discussions with North Attleboro School System officials and Hockomock League athletic directors, “there are a lot of things being talked about. We’ll see where it lands.

“I don’t know what the fall season will be, but it will be more than golf. I do think that the kids will get a chance to play, that’s the most important thing.”

Peter Gobis may be reached at 508-236-0375

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