For ‘high risk’ football to succeed in COVID-19 era, proper distancing and hygiene are key in 2020-21, according to WIAA guidelines

So how does football, the king of high school sports, proceed from here in the COVID-19 recovery era?

Very carefully.

In May, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) deemed football a “high risk” sport because of constant close-quarter contact among players, making it easy to transmit respiratory particles that carry the virus.

The WIAA echoed that sentiment in its state government-approved, return-to-play guidelines for each fall sport, released Monday. High-risk football must emphasize proper physical distancing and hygiene practices at all times.

But a pertinent question was missing from the guidance: under which phase can a high-risk sport such as football return to competition? The WIAA says it’s too early to know.

Low-risk sports can return under phase three of the WIAA’s guidance and moderate-risk sports can return in phase four. The NFHS’ May guidance was modified to say practices may begin for high-risk sports under phase three. That was taken out of the WIAA’s guidance.

“We’re still waiting for some more information,” WIAA spokesperson Casey Johnson said. “Right now, obviously no counties are in phase four. It’s one of those things specifically that we’re going to wait and see how things develop before addressing specifically.”

No return-to-play timeline for football, or any fall sport, has been determined yet. That news should come out shortly after the WIAA executive board meeting July 7.

Categorized by Washington government phases, here are some of the important highlights in the WIAA’s five-page, return-to-play guidelines for football (remember, these are just recommendations):

WASHINGTON PHASE II

*Workouts should be conducted in pods of five student-athletes. There should be a buffer distance of 30 feet between each pod of students – and a minimum distance of 6 feet between individuals at all times.

*No physical contact between athletes or coaches is allowed.

*No football should be shared, and all equipment should be sanitized after each pod workout.

*Athletic equipment such as towels, clothing, shoes, water bottles should not be shared.

*Locker rooms should not be utilized.

*Individual drills requiring the use of athletic equipment – like weights – is allowed, but should be cleaned at the end of the workout.

WASHINGTON PHASE III

*Workouts should be conducted in pods of 5-10 student-athletes and coaches. A minimum distance of 6 feet should be kept among individuals at all times.

*Individual drills requiring the use of athletic equipment – like weights – is allowed, but should be cleaned at the end of the workout.

*No football should be shared, and all equipment should be sanitized after each pod workout.

WASHINGTON PHASE IV

*On-field equipment should be cleaned and sanitized after being set up, but before the start of a game or scrimmage.

*Water stations may be utilized, but must be cleaned after every practice or competition.

*When not directly involved in practices or games/scrimmages, individuals should maintain a minimum distance of 3 to 6 feet in the standing/sideline area.

*No pre-game or post-game handshakes, high-fives or fist bumps are allowed.

*Face coverings are recommended for players during captains’ meetings.

*Each team is responsible for its own towels, hand sanitizer and medicine kit.

*Sanitized back-up game footballs should be available at all times.

OTHER GAME CONSIDERATIONS

*Team boxes extended to each 10-yard line on both sidelines to create more space.

*Limit non-essential team personnel on each sideline.

*Limit pre-game coin toss to one team representative.

*Footballs should be cleaned often during games. Check the recommendation by the ball manufacturer.

*Cloth face coverings are permissible, but clear plastic facemask shields are not.

*It is preferred that referees use electronic whistles or artificial noisemakers over traditional whistles.

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