MHSAA moves high school football to the spring

Photo by Larry Caruso


The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association  announced earlier this month that it will move the 2020 Fall football season to Spring 2021, due to football’s higher risk for spreading COVID-19.

The football season switch was made based on consultation with state health department officials and after surveying MHSAA member high schools on their progress and preferences after the first four days of practice. 

Football is considered a high-risk sport for potential spread of the COVID-19 virus because of its level of player-to-player contact.

A total of 34,219 student-athletes played football at MHSAA member schools during the 2019 season. A total of 520 11-player teams and 83 8-player teams were anticipated during late summer to play football this fall season.

“At the end of the day, we did everything we could to find a path forward for football this fall,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “But while continuing to connect with the Governor’s office, state health department officials, our member schools’ personnel and the Council, there is just too much uncertainty and too many unknowns to play football this fall.

“No one is willing to take the risk of COVID being passed on because of a high-risk sport. Decisions have to be made on our other sports as well, but none of those carry the same close, consistent, and face-to-face contact as football.”

Details for the spring football season including a specific schedule and format will be announced over the next few months. The MHSAA will be working to limit overlap of spring football and the traditional Spring sport seasons.

“While this is tremendously disappointing, we will do everything possible to provide the best possible experience in the spring while adding football into the calendar,” Uyl said.

Beginning on Aug. 24, out-of-season football is allowed 16 voluntary coach-player contact days (with more than four players) with helmets only until Oct. 31. 

Consistent with the Representative Council’s decision last week to move the football season from fall to spring, no competition or practice with students from other schools is allowed on any of the 16 voluntary coach-player contact days and this allowance is for practice sessions on-site at school facilities if the school permits with all stated safety protocols being followed and all activity taking place outdoors. 

Non sport-specific conditioning continues to be permitted with all published safety protocols. 

The four-player rule resumes on Nov. 1 for football. The MHSAA has heard from numerous schools and individuals about the need for students to stay connected with school coaches for a variety of wellness and mental health reasons. This allowance for football seeks to address that concern.

The Council also reaffirmed that MHSAA Handbook, Regulation II, Sections 9-11 limits a student to only one football season in a school year. For example, if a student participates in fall football in a different state, that student would be ineligible for a second football season in the spring in Michigan even if an exception to the transfer rule were met.

Other sports

Volleyball and soccer are considered moderate-risk for virus spread, while cross country, golf, tennis and swimming & diving are considered low-risk.

All of these sports will be able to begin their season on time in the northern lower peninsula and the upper peninsula, however rules are different in the middle and southern part of the state.

In those areas, cross country, golf and tennis may proceed as normal and volleyball and Swimming & diving may continue to practice outdoors, but head-to-head competition may not begin until the MHSAA get further guidance from the Governor’s office. Local swimming teams and volleyball teams may travel north, however, and compete in events in areas that currently allow competition.

Sideline cheer activities (practices and cheering for fall contests) are allowed until the preseason downtime for competitive cheer begins on Oct. 25. 

Sideline cheer activities must follow the protocol of using face-coverings, physical distancing and no stunting which keeps this activity in the low-risk group. This activity must take place outdoors, subject to current and future Executive Orders. 

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.