After discussions about practices and halftimes concluded Friday afternoon, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association unanimously approved its COVID-19 Task Force’s modifications for football, setting in motion a season that will start in February.
Football will be played in the commonwealth during the Fall Sports II season, which will run from Feb. 22 to April 25.
As a whole, the sport has minimal modifications — a point that came up early on in the discussion of the sport.
“There’s extensive contact involved in the game for both sides throughout the entire game,” Richard Pearson said during the meeting. “There is just going to be contact during tackle football.”
While the sport has limited modifications, football did take up the bulk of the 90-minute meeting that also unanimously approved the modifications for several sports to participate in the additional season.
According to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) neither football nor rugby can participate in indoor practices. This led to a lengthy conversation about a rule in the MIAA handbook that requires 15 practice days for every player. Although some board members expressed concerns about how long it could take to get 15 practice days in due to weather, the board ultimately referred back to the safety of the players that dictated the rule in the first place.
“We may have some hiccups to do it,” Duxbury athletic director Thom Holdgate said. “If it means you don’t get to play until the fourth week because you didn’t get your practices in? I think the kids will just be excited to get to play.”
Board members also asked if a 10-minute halftime was necessary or if the phrasing could be changed to “up to a 10-minute halftime.” The board did not make an adjustment to the phrasing out of concern for player safety and trainers having enough time to deal with any players in need of assistance.
Here is a look at the sport-specific modifications approved for football. The full modifications document can be found here.
- Facial coverings must be worn at all times during play and on the sidelines. Tube style “gaiters” are not permitted. Balaclava style face coverings that are multi-layered and are extended over the full head are permitted.
- “Splash guards” are acceptable in addition to face masks.
- There will be no pregame or postgame handshakes.
- Team roster for game-day competition on the field cannot exceed 45 players and a maximum of six coaches. Teams are required to delineate with a physical marker the social distancing requirements of six feet for their players and coaches while on the sideline area.
- In oder to limit the total number of people in proximity to the field of play, game-day personnel with an assigned responsibility are the only people permitted on the sidelines.
- Teams must work to reduce the number of players on the sideline. Injured players with no ability to play in the contest are not permitted on the sidelines.
- It is recommended that swing players should be limited when possible.
- The team box for players only is expanded to the 10-yard lines.
- Chains, pylons and other field equipment should be sanitized after setup, before the contest and after the contest is over.
- Each team is responsible for its own sanitizer, face coverings, towels, water, ice, medical kit and footballs.
- According to EEA guidelines, no more than 25 players or participants can be on one half of the playing field at any one time. Teams that have more than 25 players can still allow additional players to wait on the sidelines or bleachers to substitute for players on the field. To ensure group separation, opposing teams must be spaced at least 14-feet apart while sharing the field.
- The coin toss is limited to one player from each team. All conferences will be held at midfield with six feet of social distance.
- Huddles must consider spacing between players and facing the same direction. Teams should consider hand signals and signage from the sideline/wristbands. Teams should eliminate hand holding in huddles or during the anthem and limit close contact when possible.
- Games will feature a mandatory water break at the halfway point of each quarter, signaled by the referee at the first change of possession after the 6:00 mark of the quarter.
- Hydration stations should not be utilized.
- Team timeouts are extended to two minutes.
- The intermission between periods as well as the time period following a try or successful field goal and prior to the succeeding free kick will also be extended to a maximum of two minutes.
- Authorized team time-out conferences will take place near the bottom of the field numbers between the 25-yard lines.
- To allow for six feet of social distancing for all game officials, the coaches’ area minimum of the two-yard belt between the front of the team box and the sideline becomes a restricted area when the ball is live. No player, non-player or coach shall be in the restricted area when the ball is live.
- Clock operators and all personnel in the press box must maintain six feet of social distance from all other personnel as well as wear face coverings at all times.
- Halftime is 10 minutes. Teams will be assigned an area to gather outside of the locker room based upon EEA guidelines.