MILWAUKEE -- The body that oversees Wisconsin high school sports recommended Thursday that schools offer fall sports but delay start dates by several weeks as the coronavirus surges across the state.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Association Board of Control voted 8-3 to approve pushing back the start date for girls golf, tennis and swimming to Aug. 17. Girls and boys cross-country also will start on that date.
Sports that create a higher risk of virus transmission and infection, including football, volleyball and soccer, will start the week of Sept. 7. Whether the WIAA will offer any postseason state championship tournaments remains unclear. Board members said they just want to get the fall seasons started.
The board also ordered WIAA staff to start putting together a plan that would allow schools that opt out of fall competition to offer those sports in the spring. Teams that begin playing in the fall but have to stop because of infections or other reasons could resume their seasons in the spring.
The WIAA canceled the boys and girls state basketball tournaments in March as the pandemic seized the state and it later canceled spring sports' postseason tournaments in the hopes of slowing the spread of the disease. Schools, in turn, canceled spring sports completely, breaking thousands of young athletes' hearts.
The fate of fall sports has been unclear, with many schools opting to begin the new academic year with distance learning and local health departments imposing restrictions on activities. Dane County coronavirus restrictions, for example, currently prohibit sports with a medium to high risk of virus transmission, including football, volleyball and soccer.
A number of board members questioned what offering fall sports in the spring would look like, raising questions about athletes being forced to leave their winter sports early to join their fall sport and conflicts with spring sports like baseball and softball as well as club seasons.
WIAA Executive Dave Anderson said the WIAA would run a bifurcated fall sports calendar much like it did its separate spring and summer baseball seasons. The WIAA consolidated the seasons in the spring following the end of the 2018 summer season.
“So we have a traditional season and then a spring season,” Anderson said. “We will look for balance."
Asked during a coronavirus conference call with reporters Thursday for his reaction to the decision to move ahead with fall sports, Gov. Tony Evers said he hoped the WIAA was taking local decisions into consideration.
“It's easy for me to sit back and second guess anybody's decision on this,” said Evers, a former state schools superintendent. “It's obviously a very crucial decision for WIAA. That's their job.”