JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Jeffco Public Schools is one of many districts expected to declare for fall football with the Colorado High School Activities Association. Schools have until Monday so the organization can build schedules for one of two seasons that will offer teams at least six games during the 2020-21 school year.
“They’ve been together not like they would be in a normal year, but what’s normal?” said Jim Thyfault, the executive director of athletics and activities for Jeffco Public Schools. “We really as a district are unified, we decided earlier this week we’re going to play in the ‘A’ season.”
The “A” or fall season will operate similarly to the “C” season already announced for the spring by CHSAA. But the organization already knows more schools are likely to opt into the earlier option declaring by 8 a.m. on Monday.
“Our schools will have the choice to compete with either, both seasons will have a championship.” Adam Bright, an assistant commissioner for CHSAA. “There are going to be some things that are going to be unique and different, but I think we can also view this season with the lens that we want to be able to compete.”
Bright oversees football as well as wrestling, girl’s lacrosse, and coaches’ education programs for CHSAA. The approval from the governor’s office gives a variance to football as well as field hockey, dance, and cheer.
“Once they blow the whistle and we’re between the white lines, the game is going to look the exact same and there won’t be any difference,” he said.
Just days after the declarations are due, schedules will come out based on which teams and leagues want to play in the fall and any adjustments needed for teams planning to compete in the spring. Usually, high school football begins around Labor Day in Colorado and they would be in their fourth week of games. The plan in place will get them practicing by the end of the month and starting official games in October. Sports across the board are seeing a 30% reduction in games because of concerns to COVID-19. So each team should expect to play six regular season games as well as at least one more compared to the typical 10 games.
“At the end of the day, this is about opportunity to play and compete with the parameters we’ve been given,” Bright told CBS4 on a video conference call.
The roster will be limited to 50 members for each team, anyone not actively playing between the white lines will need to wear a mask. In some counties, even while playing the health department will ask students to wear a mask. Water won’t be shared and there will be hand sanitizer on the field. Team boxes will extend beyond the 25-yard line to the 10. When not playing, players will need to social distance and wear a face covering, even with their helmet on.
“They’ve had everything taken away from them for six months and we’re able to finally give something back,” he said.
Students expressed frustration for weeks about not having the chance to play, some even said it affected their mental health. Bright hopes it encourages a better culture for the whole school and improves their graduation rates.
“Anything we can do to help our students get across the stage at the end of the day, that’s our ultimate goal is to walk them across the stage with a diploma.”
There will be two champions for the fall and the spring but the playoffs will likely look different as the number of teams may not be the same in each postseason. The early estimate is that up to 80% of all teams will compete in the fall.
Practice is set to begin on Sept. 24 with teams able to prepare knowing their list of opponents for the shortened season. The first week of games will begin on Oct. 8 leading into that weekend. Playoffs are scheduled for Nov. 21. Those teams that do not qualify will still get one more game to play, possibly a rival they may not have met on the field this year.
The regulations in place are in accordance with the governor’s office and the state health department. The stands will likely be limited to 175 people instead of the thousands who typically attend football games.
For districts like Jeffco, their decision considers 18 schools ranging in size from 1A to 5A. Thyfault says while the sport must be managed differently this year, he believes the game will be played the same. He thinks playing now, while the positivity rate is low in Colorado, is a better idea than in March or April when the situation could change and there will likely be more snow days.
“Once they tee it up, and kick it off, it’s going to seem the same, we’re still going to play the game of football,” he said.