Annie-Leigh Besa goes up for a shot after receiving the ball in the post in a McNary girls’ basketball game from last season (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

With member schools citing concerns about travel and transportation amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA) executive board announced in a memo on Thursday, Oct. 22 that it would not require schools to compete in their designated leagues or special districts for the 2020-21 season.

“Schools were having a difficult time figuring out how to deal with travel and transportation issues, so we wanted to take away that barrier,” OSAA executive director Peter Weber said. “In some instances, it would make sense for teams to just play only the teams in their own league. But this way they don’t have to.”

In the memo, the board encourages schools to fill their schedules with local and regional games, including competing in contests outside of a school’s classification.

Under current OSAA guidelines, McNary High School athletic squads would play a number of local schools in the Mountain Valley Conference (Sprague, South Salem, West Salem, McKay), while forgoing their matchups against the remainder of the league (Bend, Mountain View and Summit).

However, McNary, who plays at the 6A level, could potentially fill their schedules with contests against local schools from lower classifications — such as North Salem (5A), Salem Academy (3A), or Blanchet (3A).

“It will depend on the sport and the schools, but teams could play someone from down the street, even if they were in a different classification,” Weber said.

Due to the change in scheduling procedures, the OSAA is electing not to use their power rankings system this season — power rankings were used to determine playoff seeding.

In replacement of the power rankings, Weber talked about the possibility of having a seeding committee for each sport.

“Teams won’t have to go out of their way to find themselves the best game to boost their ranking. (The executive board) will be able to figure out how to select the teams that will qualify for certain events,” Weber said. 

Weber also said that the OSAA still hopes to hold some semblance of a postseason for each sport.

“It’s still a little early to decide. There might not be traditional state championships, but hopefully it will look like something close to that,” Weber said.

The time from Aug. 31 to Dec. 27 has been designated by the OSAA as Season 1 — where the permission of sports and activities is at the discretion of local school districts. Practice for Season 2, which includes the traditional winter sports (wrestling, basketball, swimming, dance/drill and cheerleading) is scheduled to begin Monday, Dec. 28.

However, it’s looking unlikely for winter-sport student-athletes in the Salem-Keizer School District (SKSD) to be able to start official practice by that date.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) currently prohibits all contact sports — every winter sport, except swimming, is considered a contact sport. Additionally, the OHA also doesn’t permit any indoor sports competitions for schools that are in comprehensive distance learning — SKSD high school students are scheduled to be in comprehensive distance learning until at least Feb. 1, 2021.

The OSAA is hoping to make a final decision on Season 2 by Monday, Dec. 7 or sooner. Weber says that there will have to be changes made to state guidance for all winter sports to be able to compete.

Even if certain sports and activities don’t have a season due to COVID-19 related restrictions, non-contact sports (baseball, softball, tennis, cross country, golf) could still take place.

“We want to do our best to provide as many opportunities as we possibly can. It’s not an all or nothing situation,” Weber said.