It’s shaping up as a very peculiar season for high school sports in West Virginia.
Just as important for teams as practice and camaraderie could be their county’s COVID-19 numbers and its current color-coded risk status.
Gov. Jim Justice laid out the state’s return-to-school plans during Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing, which included a color-coded map system that will spell out the safety conditions for classrooms in West Virginia’s 55 counties — green (low threat), yellow, orange and red (high threat). Those designations that determine if schools will be open or shut down will also dictate whether high school teams can hold their scheduled athletic contests.
“What we’re going to do is evaluate on a county-by-county basis,’’ Justice said. “It’s a gigantic undertaking.”
Justice said a “fair and good” mathematical metric is being devised that can be updated at regular intervals to gauge the spread of the virus in each county, thus determining the level of safety for holding classes and, ultimately, sports.
“In your county, if you want your sports teams to move on and everything, some way, somehow we’ve got to keep the number down in the county,” Justice said. “And if we don’t and the numbers are exploding to the up side and you’re a red in your county at that point in time and you happen to have a sports contest that day or that weekend or whatever like that, you’re not going to be able to play. It’s just that simple. We don’t play sports if the school’s closed.”
Bernie Dolan, executive director of the state’s Secondary School Activities Commission, learned of the color-coded system for schools for the first time when Justice made his announcement Wednesday, so Dolan could only speak “in generalities’’ as to what it meant for fall sports, which are set to open with preseason practice on Aug. 17.
“We’ll have to wait and hear how it plays out,’’ Dolan said. “We don’t know what the metrics are and how often they’ll be [updated]. Will it be that every Monday you find out if you can play Friday? I don’t know. Obviously, football plays on Fridays, but volleyball and soccer and golf can play every day of the week. Maybe they’ll announce it over the weekends? It’s all to be determined.’’
Dolan acknowledged that under the system Justice detailed, some teams might not know if they’re going to be playing from game to game because of the status of their opponent’s county.
“That could very well happen,’’ Dolan said. “Red probably means you’re shut down for that week. I wouldn’t be surprised if you think you’re playing [George Washington] next week and lo and behold, one of you can’t play. If you’re the team that could play, I think you’d have to have some flexibility to allow you to go and get another game.
“Most football games have contracts, but I don’t think we can enforce some of those contracts because of COVID. It would probably be a no contest.’’
Justice mentioned that the SSAC might have to amend its ratings since some schools could play far fewer than a full 10-game schedule in football. Dolan, however, noted that the bonus-point system the SSAC uses already takes into account situations where teams play less games than others, because a team’s rating is an average determined by the number of games it plays.
“We might say you only need to play five games [to qualify for the playoffs],’’ Dolan said, “but if you play five, six or seven, it hurts you a little bit because you don’t get as many bonus points.’’
Dolan thinks that the county color-coded system could also dictate whether fans will be permitted in the stands at high school sporting events. Soccer and volleyball games are scheduled to begin on Sept. 2 and football games on Sept. 3.
“I’m hoping that [determination] comes out of this,’’ Dolan said. “I’m guessing now, but I would imagine if you’re red, there’s no game and if you’re orange, it’s just critical personnel and no fans, and with green and yellow, you get a little bit of flexibility. And what determines that flexibility is where you are on the spectrum.’’
Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.