In Texas, the University Interscholastic League is gearing up for its 100th season of football as the state’s governing body of public high school sports. It oversees more than 1,300 schools with nearly 170,000 football players each fall.
Texas high schools played football during World War I, the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, World War II, the weekend after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Charles Breithaupt, UIL executive director.
“That social structure of those games, when people come together, it was almost a healing for them — that they can get together with their neighbors and friends, and get their minds off the problems the society they were living in was facing,” Breithaupt said.
Football is a money-maker for the the UIL, which could lose more than $1.5 million in ticket sales if it can’t hold playoff games and championships, according to an analysis by The Dallas Morning News.
It is also a lifeblood for school bands side events such as bake sales that support various school clubs. Eliminate those, Breithaupt said, and you put enormous pressure on school and club budgets that are already under pressure with the overall economic slowdown.
States allowing summer workouts are requiring social distancing measures and health checks. That includes regular sanitizing of equipment, space limits between athletes, and symptom and temperature checks before arrival. Contact drills are restricted and athletes are told to avoid shaking hands and giving high fives.
States do not appear to require the testing of high school athletes, citing costs and difficulty with managing such large numbers. A 16-page guidance manual distributed by the national federation did not include recommendations for regular testing of athletes.
Within two days of starting summer conditioning, UIL officials said they would immediately eliminate some restrictions and quickly phase out others. Staffing requirements of one coach for every 20 students to ensure social distancing was dropped. Starting June 22, athletes can gather in larger groups and workout room capacity will be increased from 25% to 50%.
Relaxing high school sports restrictions follows the broader phasing out of rules on business and public places such as restaurants and retail stores. Beyond high schools, youth sports leagues and have been allowed to resume in Texas and other states.
Still facing high schools is the question of how to play the actual games, particularly football when bodies crash into each other on every play, and whether they can host large numbers of fans. Acknowledging that crowds may be small or not even allowed, the UIL recently lifted its ban on live broadcasts of Friday night games for the upcoming season.
Texas announced this week that schools will be open for in-class instruction this fall, with details to come later.