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Column: I wish I had the right answer for fall sports, but I currently don’t

Austin Hemmingson

ESCANABA — I don’t know.

Those seem to be the only words I can answer to any question regarding anything in life right now, especially when it comes to fall sports, and specifically football.

In this day and age when it seems a good majority of people think they have all the answers, I’ll honestly say I don’t have many. If any.

Some area teams are set to start football practice Monday, while others probably won’t see the field for a couple weeks yet. The Michigan High School Athletic Association has opted to delay its decision as to when games can start, but the council probably won’t have that decision made until Aug. 20.

On July 17, the MHSAA announced all fall sports will kick off as traditionally scheduled after there was some speculation fall and spring sports could be flipped, per Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recommendation.

Then last week, the MHSAA adopted a phase-in competition plan for fall sports to try to deter the spread of COVID-19. The plan states that moderate and high risk sports will be allowed to begin practice but not competition. There will also be no scrimmages for fall sports.

Locally, this affects volleyball and football, because these are considered moderate and high risk. Football practice may begin Monday with sessions of conditioning, physical training and skill work with no other player equipment except helmets. Full pads and equipment practices may not begin until Aug. 17.

If that’s not complicated enough, scheduling this year will probably be a disaster, just to be blunt about it. I feel for every athletic director who has to work through this.

For example, the Escanaba football team was scheduled to begin its season against Antigo, Wis. on Aug. 28, then host Petoskey the following week.

The problem?

Wisconsin has decided to delay the start of fall sports until at least mid-September, leaving the Eskymos without a season-opener. The following week’s game against Petoskey will also be called off due to the Big North Conference moving to a conference-only schedule. That also means Escanaba’s two road games at Alpena and Traverse City West to end the year won’t be played.

I haven’t talked to Escanaba A.D. Tony Perino recently to see what the plan is, but my hunch is Great Northern Conference teams will likey play each other twice this season just to fill their schedules, if there even is a season at all.

Best-case scenario for U.P. teams might be to try to gather together to play for a U.P. championship at the end of the season, but I’m not sure how realistic that is.

The whole idea that you’re going to be able to social distance while playing football is actually kind of humorous to me. I’m all for letting the kids play, and I believe there should be a season, but on the surface that immediately makes you wonder how this is even going to be possible.

Without diving into too much detail, I believe the kids should be allowed to play and have their seasons. There is just too much at stake. For some players, this will be their last chance to ever play high school sports again. For others, they might be trying to impress college scouts to land a scholarship offer.

All across the nation, it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out. The NCAA and NFL are both trying to put together seasons, so it will be interesting to see if what happens there has any effect on what happens at the high school level.

Some high school teams have already opted out of the season. Earlier Friday, the Lansing School District officially cancelled all fall sports. Other states like Minnesota are moving football to the spring, although that’s apparently already been ruled out in Michigan.

With so many unknowns, I feel for everyone involved — coaches, players, athletic directors, officials and even fans.

One thing I do know is it’s got to be frustrating to put all this work into a season that may or may not happen. Working hard and being motivated is a lot easier when you have certainty that come fall, all you have to worry about is lining up and being better than the player or team across from you.

At the end of the day, fall sports will probably be played in a much different capacity than what we’re used to seeing. I just wish there were more answers.

I currently don’t have them.

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