OSAA puts the fall sports season on hold

McNary’s Luke Ellis competes in a cross country race at Bush Park in a meet from last season (File).

During a “normal” year, student-athletes across the state would be preparing to gear up for the fall sports season.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) to call an audible on how they would proceed with athletics and activities for the 2020-21 school year. 

After announcing in July that they would delay the start of fall sports, the OSAA executive board made the decision on Wednesday, Aug. 5 to condense all sports seasons and to shift the fall season into March as a part of the new 2020-21 athletics calendar. 

Under this new regime, the OSAA will still hold three distinct athletic seasons. However, there won’t be any prep sporting events played until January 2021.

The winter sports season is scheduled to run from Jan. 11 to March 7, while the seasonal fall sports (football, volleyball, soccer, cross country) will be played from March 15 to May 9. Spring sports will take place from May 3 to June 27 — all sports and activities will be predicated on guidance from Oregon Health Authority (OHA), as well as Governor Kate Brown. 

The OSAA association year will begin on Aug. 31. From then until Dec. 27, the permission of sports and activities will not be designated by the OSAA. Instead they will be at the discretion of local school districts, provided they are allowed by the Governor’s Office, Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and OHA — meaning that teams could potentially hold limited practices and workouts during this time, which is designated as Season 1 by OSAA. 

By delaying the start of the athletics season, the OSAA is hoping that more member schools will have a chance to compete. 

“I applaud the effort from the board of directors for being able to shift to this model. The goal is to get kids participating in extracurricular activities and this plan gives us the best opportunity to do that,” said McNary athletic director Scott Gragg.

In late-July, the OSAA was still planning on having an abbreviated fall sports season (minus football). But after Brown announced the metrics school districts would have to abide by in order to return to in-person classes, OSAA had to re-arrange their plans — nearly every district in the state has already committed to online learning to start the fall.

“We knew when we made the initial announcement that some districts would be doing distance learning. But at this point, virtually every school in the state will be in a distance learning model, and that presented too many challenges,” OSAA executive director Peter Weber said. 

Weber also said that it is unlikely any sports will take place without students returning to some form of in-person school.

The executive board has had continuous conversations with representatives from Washington and California, seeking guidance on how to best proceed with the 2020-21 season. While they took some elements from each state’s plan, one of the priorities that the OSAA had that differed from Washington and California was to still hold three separate athletic seasons. 

“We wanted to minimize overlap and still have three distinct seasons and keep the seasonal sports together,” Weber said. 

Each sport will have an abbreviated, seven week regular season, which will be followed by a “culminating week.” Weber and the OSAA board are still working out the logistics of what a culminating week will look like in each sport. 

For football, one possibility for a culminating week would be to have a bowl game system instead of the state playoffs.

“We just don’t know yet. It’s going to be something we’re going to have to work on,” Weber said. “If we were to do a bowl game system, it could be based on where teams are regionally. There are a lot of different aspects to it.”

Weber says that the OSAA wants to provide teams and individuals a chance to compete for a state championship this season, but the current plans for that are murky. 

“Our goal is to hold state championships in every sport. We just don’t know if we will be able to do that,” Weber said. “Having 2,500 kids at a state track meet would be difficult to do.”

The use of power rankings is still up in the air and guidance on spectators will come from the state at a later date.

As far as scheduling is concerned, athletic directors around the state will have to revamp schedules that were already set months in advance — which could be difficult for Salem-Keizer teams that play in the Mountain Valley Conference with teams that are outside the region (Bend, Summit and Mountain View).

“We have to go back to the drawing board. I’m sure a lot of our games will have to be local,” Gragg said. “Luckily, we have months to figure that out. But the priority is playing local games, that way we’re not working with other counties that my be in a different situation with their restrictions.”

Even with the alteration of the 2020-21 athletic season, Weber says that the OSAA plans to return to the familiar format for 2021-22.

“Hopefully, we will be able to get back to that,” Weber said.