As the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association sees the athletic portion of its academic year end with no spring-sports championships, the natural question is: What about the fall?

Or maybe more specifically: Will there be high-school football in 2020?

The answer isn’t satisfying. It’s the same answer to most questions that come up these days involving the future: Nobody knows. The WIAA is working on contingencies for fall, but it’s like hitting a target that’s tossing about in the wind.

What phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start Washington” plan will the state be in when practice starts in August? Will students still be taking classes online?

O’Dea’s Myles Gaskin (1587) comes out of lane three to win the boy’s Class 3A 100 meters, defeating runner-up Emmanuel Wells of Rainier Beach (1640) and third place Rashad Swank-Jones (1284) of Garfield at the state track and field meet in 2015.  (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
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WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman thinks it’s possible to do some fall sports under Phase 3 of the plan, which allows for gatherings of up to 50 people. Perhaps allowing just parents into a volleyball match?

But what about football, where even the smallest crowds at a game number in the hundreds? Do you attempt it with no crowds? Stream games online? This isn’t a question that will be taken lightly by school districts. Ticket sales for football are key revenue for athletic departments.

And what do you do with the likely scenario of different counties being in different phases? If a team in Moses Lake can start practicing in August, but a team in Everett can’t start until October, how do you have an equitable playoff to decide a state champion? Or will that pursuit be abandoned this year and teams can crown regional champs instead?

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“That’s a conversation we’re starting with our (Executive) Board,” Hoffman said. “Do we want to make it all or nothing?”

The WIAA isn’t working alone on these plans. The National Federation of State High Schools Association (NFHS), the national governing body of high-school sports based in Indianapolis, issued guidance this week on how to reopen high-school athletics.

“The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee utilized recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as some return-to-play considerations by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), in formulating this guidance document for reopening athletics and other activities in our nation’s schools,” NFHS executive director Karissa Niehoff said in a news release.

The NFHS guidance resembles the state’s plan as it has three phases to guide schools. Hoffman said the WIAA is combining the NFHS and the governor’s directives to form its own plan. The WIAA is going to consult with state health officials, and they’re hoping to release some guidelines to schools next week.

Among the highlights of the NFHS plan:

  • Phase 1: Athlete and coach screening; no more than 10 people; no locker rooms; physical distancing; no using shared equipment; no water stations.
  • Phase 2: No more than 10 people inside, 50 outside; locker rooms with social distancing; full practices for sports such as cross county or swimming; modified practices for sports such as volleyball or soccer.
  • Phase 3: No more daily screenings; groups of 50 allowed; regular practices for most sports; modified practices for sports such as football. This phase also allows for spectators.

What fall sports could come down to for the WIAA is emphasizing the academic positives of athletics over chasing state titles.

So if that team in Moses Lake practices sooner and that team from Everett later, so be it. The point is everybody gets the benefits from competition that’s backed up in countless studies.

“Bottom line, we know what we do is good for kids,” Hoffman said. “We have to worry about what’s good for them before we worry about who wins a trophy.”