The Transylvania Times -

By Jeremiah Reed
Sports Editor 

National Federation Releases Guidelines For Fall Sports


Last updated 5/20/2020 at 5:01pm

The question of just what high school sports might look like in the fall got its first answer on Tuesday morning.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), utilizing its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC), issued a 16-page document outlining proposed recommendations to its 51 members across the nation as to how schools should go about the task of starting up fall sports.

SMAC is a 15-member advisory committee composed of medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists and state high school association executives that regularly develops position statements related to medical aspects of conducting high school athletics.

The document is comprehensive and covers all aspects of athletics – sanitizing facilities, minimizing contact, ranking which sports present the most risk of exposure, concerns about travel, placing limitations on the size of gatherings and everything else that has suddenly become so commonplace in the era of coronavirus.

It should be noted that the document is merely a set of guidelines, which are ultimately voluntary for states to follow. Above all, the NFHS advises states to “engage with state and local health departments,” when making policy decisions.

“We believe this guidance document will be a tremendous resource for our member state associations as they determine the timetables for re-opening sports and activities,”said NFHS executive director Karissa Niehoff.

Much like the state of North Carolina’s re-opening process, the NFHS suggests a three-phase approach in getting back to sports.

(A detailed timeline of that proposal can be found below.)

There is no date given or suggested for when Phase 1 would launch, nor are there any estimates given as to how long each phase might last.

A key feature of the recommendations is putting sports in risk categories – low risk, moderate risk and high risk.

Low-risk sports are defined as those that can be done with social distancing or without the sharing of equipment. Examples include individual running and swimming events, golf and cross country running.

Moderate-risk sports are defined as those that involve, “close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place that may reduce the likelihood of respiratory particle transmission between participants.”

Examples include basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball and soccer.

High-risk sports are defined as those that involve, “close, sustained contact between participants, with lack of significant protective barriers, and a high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants.”

Football and wrestling fall into the high-risk category.

During Phase 1, no teams would be allowed to practice.

Workouts would be limited to groups of 10, inside and outside, and six feet of distancing must be maintained.

During workouts, no equipment can be shared.

That means a group of volleyball players could not hit the ball back and forth, just as a quarterback couldn’t go through passing drills with wide receivers.

Athletes would have to provide their own water, as communal water stations aren’t allowed. Locker room use is also banned.

During Phase 2, teams in the low-risk sports category could begin practicing and could hold contests.

Sports in the moderate-risk category could begin “modified practices,” although no exact definition of the term is provided.

Groups can gather up to 50 people, if outdoors. Indoor groups remain capped at 10.

Locker rooms can re-open, provided distancing is exercised. Water station use is still banned.

During Phases 1 and 2, it is noted that, “all coaches and students should be screened for signs/symptoms of COVID-19 prior to a workout.”

During Phase 3, that language loosens. Those recommendations state, “Any person who has had a fever or cold symptoms in the previous 24 hours should not be allowed to take part in workouts...”

Crowd size would increase to 50 people, both inside and outside. Water station use would be allowed.

Moderate-risk sports could begin regular practices and competitions. High-risk sports could begin modified practices.

Criteria for modified practices include that players and coaches must be screened under the protocol of Phases 1 and 2, and suggests showering immediately after all practices or contests.

The NFHS gives no concrete instruction on when high-risk sports could begin competing.

It advises state associations to, “Re-assess epidemiology data and experiences in other states and other levels of competition to determine when... competition may resume.”

Face Masks

The NFHS recommends athletes wear face masks during Phases 1 and 2, with limited exceptions. Face masks are encouraged in Phase 3, when not directly competing.

It instructs that any player who wants to wear a face mask during a contest should be allowed to do so.

Coaches, officials and other personnel would be allowed to wear face masks during all phases.

Possible Disruptions

In addressing the possibility of a positive coronavirus test during a season, the NFHS advises states to, “be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two to three weeks while in-season.”

It advises states to develop policies to address the possibility of extended stoppages in play, as well as the possibility that seasons would end prematurely.


Transportation to and from events was highlighted by the NFHS.

The document states, “social distancing... will need to be maintained on buses/vans. Thus, multiple buses/vans and/or parental/guardian transportation will likely be needed.”

It also advised schools to schedule road games that require as little travel as possible.

The NFHS went on to note that, “appropriate social distancing will need to be maintained on sidelines/benches during contests.”

Attendance Protocol

There are three tiers listed as to who is allowed at the site of practices and competitions.

Tier 1 (Essential) – Athletes, coaches, officials, event staff, medical staff and security.

Tier 2 (Preferred) – Media.

Tier 3 (Non-essential) – Spectators, vendors.

The guidelines suggest, “Only Tier 1 and 2 personnel will be allowed to attend events until state/local health departments lift restrictions on mass gatherings.”

Trainers & Physicals

One of the concerns addressed by the NFHS is the potential lack of athletic trainers available to schools, stating that the position will be a “luxury” for many.

“It is also assumed that athletic trainers supplied to high schools by hospitals and sports medicine clinics are also at risk as many medical clinics and hospitals have suffered severe revenue loss during the pandemic,” the document reads.

Another area of concern is the ability of athletes to attain physicals, as they are seen as non-essential.

The NFHS recommends granting a one-year extension to any athlete that has a physical set to expire before or during the 2020-21 academic year.

Athletes without a current physical on file – such as freshmen or first-time participants – could not play until getting a physical.

Proposed Fall Sports Timeline

(Editor’s Note: The following is compilation of the timeline for high school fall sports to begin. The timeline was created by the National Federation of State High School Associations, along with the organization’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

This timeline is merely a recommendation and no official decision regarding falls sports has been reached at this time.)

Phase One

Pre-workout screening: All coaches/students should be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to a workout.

Vulnerable individuals – defined as “people age 65 years or older and others with serious undelying health conditions...” – should not oversee or participate in any workout.

Limitations on Gatherings: No gathering of more than 10 people, inside or outside.

Locker rooms should not be utilized during Phase 1. Workouts should be conducted in “pods” consisting of 5-10 students.

A minimum distance of six feet must be maintained at all times.

Facilities Cleaning: Adequate cleaning schedules should be created.

Prior to entering a facility, all hard surfaces must be wiped down and sanitized.

Hand sanitizer should be plentiful and readily available. Weight equipment should be wiped down thoroughly. Students are encouraged to shower as quickly as they get home.

Physical Activity/Athletic Equipment: There should be no shared equipment between students.

All athletic equipment, including balls, should be cleaned after each use. Free weight training that requires a spotter is not allowed as it violates the six-foot rule.

Some examples include – a basketball player can shoot by himself, but can’t share the ball with any teammates; volleyball players cannot touch a ball previously touched by another player; cheerleaders can practice jumps and dances, but can’t do anything involving contact.

Hydration: All students shall bring their own water bottle. No use of water coolers/hydration stations is allowed.

Phase Two

Pre-workout/Contest Screening: Same as Phase 1.

Limitations on Gatherings: No gatherings of 10 or more people inside. Up to 50 individuals may gather outdoors for workouts.

Workouts should still be conducted in small “pods” and a minimum distance of six feet must be maintained.

Social distancing also must be maintained on the sidelines/benches.

Facilities Cleaning: Same as Phase 1.

Physical Activity/Athletic Equipment: Low-risk sports (see main story for definition) practices and competitions may begin. Modified practices can begin for moderate-risk sports. (No direct definition of “modified” was given.)

Hydration: Same as Phase 1.

Phase 3

Pre-workout/Contest Screening: Any person with a fever/cold symptoms in the past 24 should not be allowed to participate.

Vulnerable individuals can resume public interactions, but should practice social distancing.

Limitations on Gatherings: Gathering sizes of up to 50 people, indoors and outdoors.

When not directly participating, care should be taken to ensure distancing of between 3 and 6 feet.

Facilities Cleaning: Same as Phase 1.

Physical Activity/Athletic Equipment: Moderate-risk sports practices and competitions may begin.

Modified practices can begin for high-risk sports – football.

Modifications include holding pre-practice screenings under the protocol of Phases 1 and 2, and having players shower immediately after workouts.

The recommendations further ask states to “Re-assess epidemiology data and experiences in other states and other levels of competition,” to determine when high-risk sports competition may resume.

Hydration stations/water coolers are now allowed, but must be cleaned after each use.


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