New Mexico high school football and soccer are on hold in 2020 with the hope seasons may be played in the spring. Colorado can only hope it is not next.
The announcement from New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday afternoon created a new myriad of problems for student-athletes, coaches and administrators in New Mexico. For months, they have planned on contingencies if the COVID-19 pandemic continued to persist through the summer and into the fall, and now additional plans will have to be formulated for the hope of spring seasons.
Southwest Colorado schools also have had to plan diligently in the case the New Mexico Activities Association would not be permitted to play games. Teams from around the Four Corners routinely appear against each other on schedules, especially in football, soccer and volleyball.
“It’s tough for us. We play three of them in our preseason,” Durango High School football coach David Vogt said. “It’s always a great experience for our kids because they know each other and have played against each other all throughout growing up. We are going to try to fill our schedules the best we can by reaching out to teams closer around like Bayfield, Pagosa and Cortez and try to get some games together with them or maybe play some team twice.”
Grisham said non-contact sports may be permitted to resume this fall, though those likely will be delayed. She made no mention of volleyball, the only fall sport played indoors where there are more strict coronavirus related health protocols in place than in outdoor activities.
While Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has not yet made an announcement regarding high school sports this fall while the state continues to work with the Colorado High School Activities Association regarding protocols and contingency plans, CHSAA has remained committed to trying to resume fall sports as regularly scheduled this fall as long as students are permitted to return to in-person learning in classrooms.
CHSAA Commisioner Rhonda Blanford-Green this week said plans had been submitted to state health officials regarding the next steps toward fall seasons being held. Those plans particularly detailed guidelines to increase roster sizes and capacity for gyms and stadiums to allow more players and coaches on fields and courts. A CHSAA announcement regarding fall sports awaits the approval or rejection of those plans.
In the wake of the anticipated New Mexico announcement Thursday as well as the Ivy League’s decision not to play college sports this fall, Blanford-Green sent an email to athletic directors across the state Thursday.
“We want to continue to provide our membership with an assurance that the CHSAA staff remains focused on resuming all athletics and activities in 2020-21 safely and equitably (not equal) for the many students, coaches, officials, and school communities that are looking to the Association for statewide leadership,” Blanford-Green said in the email. “We will provide answers and direction when applicable as not to exacerbate the confusion that currently exist as we are navigating our personal and professional lives. Could we move forward with the current guidelines and announce the start of some sports/activities? Absolutely, but our lens and strategic plan for the future of all programs must be broader.
“The CHSAA staff has completed and submitted our proposed requirements and safety guidelines for practice, competition, event management and officials oversight to the Governor’s team for review, revisions, and ultimately approval. Once we receive feedback, we will forward next steps to the membership. Our staff is ready to announce start dates, provide guidelines and present in multiple educational outreaches but we will not move forward without an assurance from our state and health departments.”
Schedule problemsWhile the loss of New Mexico opponents this fall could lead to several holes in schedules, there is no pressure on Colorado schools to race to fill those vacancies.
CHSAA’s playoff seeding criteria will not penalize a team if they do not have a full schedule of nine or 10 regular-season games.
“League champions and/or RPI would be factors in modified seasons,” CHSAA assistant commissioner Adam Bright said. “There is not a penalty within the CHSAA seeding matrix for playing less than a full schedule.”
Aztec High School football was scheduled to play Bayfield, Durango and Montezuma-Cortez this fall. If Colorado does have fall football, or at least if it starts the season, the Panthers in Cortez will look to replace a Week 1 opponent because of the loss of Aztec.
“We have several New Mexico teams we correspond with and play with,” said M-CHS athletic director David Robinson. “We definitely are going to have to switch what we do. We need to try to find another Week 1 opponent. Adam Bright has done an excellent job on the front side of all of this communicating with schools and creating a database where everyone puts down what out-of-state opponents they had and on what dates. We can go in and look, see who else is needing a game and see if maybe an Interstate-70 corridor team had an out-of-state game get canceled and we can collaborate with them and get closer to a full schedule.”
The Durango Demons were slated to play Week 2 at Aztec and Week 5 at Piedra Vista as well as a home game Week 4 against Farmington.
Bayfield High School was to host Aztec for Week 4. That means Bayfield and Durango, which were not scheduled to play in 2020 after they had renewed a rivalry the last four seasons after 80 years without having played a varsity game, could fill that hole on their schedule by once more playing each other – a rebirth of the Vallecito Bowl a year after it seemed the two teams may not play each other again for at least the next several years.
DHS also has been in talks with Erie High School about playing a game, as Erie is scheduled to play Week 2 at Cascade in Oregon. If that game were to fall through, the Demons could clash with the Tigers once more after two playoff meetings with Erie in 2017 and 2018.
“Just like everything, we are planning as if we play games,” Durango athletic director Ryan Knorr said. “We are trying to have things lined up the best that we can. But I think decisions to fill schedules will come closer to the season starting in August.”
Ignacio High School, too, will have to replace New Mexico opponents. Week 2, the Bobcats were to play Newcomb. Week 4 also was to be a matchup with Navajo Prep. That means, instead of playing Durango, Bayfield could opt to play Ignacio in a Pine River Rivalry game in Week 4.
On a positive front, the Utah High School Activities Association unanimously approved a plan to begin fall sports on Thursday. That means matchups for several of Southwest Colorado’s teams against Utah opponents such as Monticello and San Juan High will be played, again providing Colorado is allowed to start fall seasons as planned.
Volleyball is perhaps the biggest question mark not only for New Mexico but every state. In Colorado, only 10 athletes and coaches are allowed in a gymnasium at one time under current health protocols. That would have to change for volleyball matches to be held.
Schedules again will be hugely affected if New Mexico does not play volleyball this fall, as all La Plata County and Montezuma-County schools schedule teams from San Juan County, New Mexico.
“I’m quietly assuming that volleyball would follow suit, in the hopes that we have a volleyball season at all,” Bayfield volleyball head coach Terene Foutz said of New Mexico likely moving to the spring. “Utah is just a glimmer of hope that each state follows its own best policy versus any domino effect response to these closures.”
For now, Colorado can only hope the recent spike in COVID-19 cases can be controlled during the month of July. CHSAA has maintained that the return of sports will be dependent on students returning to classrooms, and that won’t happen if the coronavirus pandemic continues to limit the ability for people to gather indoors at numbers greater than 10.
“(Blanford-Green) and the CHSAA folks are real hopeful but are leaning on the understanding of many medical experts and people in that field in our state,” Robinson said. “When you look at the collegiate scene and what is going on right know, it’s kind of a different area, for sure. But we will change some things and see what is possible this fall.”