Now that Gov. Tim Walz has provided his guidance for Minnesota schools to restart this fall, the question becomes: What is to come for high school sports?

While some school districts — such as St. Paul — are likely to continue to stick entirely with distance learning practices, others will use hybrid models that have kids in classes at least a couple of days a week, and some districts will likely be in-person full time.

So if some kids are physically in school, and others aren’t, will everyone still be able to participate in sports this fall? Will anyone?

“I’m not going to make the decision on this. I’m going to leave the best science, the best data that’s out there, and then the High School League and athletic directors will determine that,” Walz said at his news conference July 30. “It is our goal again to use that best data, what we’ve been doing over the summer, we have been seeing sports being played. And … we have not seen a high level of transmission among those playing, and I think that will impact their decision.”

The Minnesota State High School League established a “return to participation” task force in July, and said in a statement Thursday the task force will continue to develop programming options for the upcoming school year ahead of the Aug. 4 Board of Directors meeting.

The League said that task force has worked to follow these guiding principles:

  • Prioritize the health and safety for all to the greatest extent possible.
  • Align return-to-participation options with the requirements and recommendations of state organizations and agencies focused on safety and return-to-learn models.
  • Provide an opportunity for education-based participation in each sport and activity.
  • Demonstrate equity and fairness in preparation of programming options.
  • Acknowledge financial implications.
  • Apply guidelines consistently.

The MSHSL is searching for ways to play all of its fall sports this fall. But that may prove difficult considering the level of contact and interaction involved in sports such as football, soccer and volleyball.

It also could offer shortened seasons to minimize risks, as well as potentially deferring some seasons to the spring.

Twenty-four other states have at least delayed the start of certain sports this fall, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Many of those states, such as Wisconsin, have simply delayed the start of practice for higher-risk sports such as football, volleyball and soccer, which will begin on Sept. 7 across the border. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Minnesota follow suit.

Six states, as well as the District of Columbia, already have determined they will not play football this fall. If the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference don’t feel it’s safe to play, should local high schools? Certainly the travel is more controllable.

Many states are moving forward with the low-risk fall sports, such as tennis. It remains to be seen what restrictions, if any, will be placed on those sports, assuming they are played.

And should Minnesota decide to play, say, football this fall, what might that look like? It is difficult to imagine state tournaments would be held as usual, with teams from across the state cycling into the same location, with three-plus teams shuffling in and out of the same locker room on any given day as they have in past years.

Any reduction of state tournaments — particularly the money generators, such as football — would leave the MSHSL at a major budget deficit that likely would land upon the shoulders of the member schools. The absence of fall state tournaments alone would leave the MSHSL a projected $466,000 deficit.

The reality is, there doesn’t appear to be a perfect answer for this fall, and even the status of winter sports is uncertain. The MSHSL would like to play as much of as many sports as possible, so long as it can be done in a safe manner. But nothing is 100 percent safe right now, so all factors must be considered before decisions are made.

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