Coolidge vs. AZ College Prep

Coolidge running back Greg Rodriguez carries the ball against Arizona College Prep on Aug. 30, 2019, in Coolidge.

PHOENIX — A COVID-19 benchmark set by the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee was changed Thursday, allowing a wider path for returning to high school football.

When the advisory committee released its revised recommended guidelines Sept. 4 that outlined steps for a return to athletics, one benchmark stood out and caused worry among a considerable number of coaches, parents — and perhaps administrators — that the football regular season would not begin Oct. 2 as planned.

The SMAC described “minimal” spread in a particular geographic region to be fewer than 10 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. While the guidelines also mentioned that it was acceptable to play under the “moderate” spread category, many wondered if football would be put to a halt in certain school districts where the most stringent community spread benchmark was not being reached.

School districts will ultimately decide if their high schools will play football, based on SMAC benchmarks and advice from county health departments.

On Thursday, the SMAC revised the benchmarks from Sept. 4, and the AIA announced that the new metric for “minimal” spread is 75 or fewer cases per 100,000 people, a significantly more attainable number.

An AIA press release noted that several states with similar COVID-19 numbers as Arizona are already playing high school football without any major concerns.

“With the advantage of viewing these games nationwide for several weeks, it is believed the AIA can successfully and safely conduct football with this new benchmark by complying with the updated sport specific modifications,” the AIA stated in its release.

The sport specific modifications include tweaks to all fall sports to mitigate the spread of the virus. Sanitizing, social distancing and mask wearing are included in the modifications.

For instance, in football, all team personnel are required to wear masks at all times during travel, pregame routines and while using locker room facilities.

During games, anyone in the “team box” must maintain social distance of 6 feet, and all coaches, players and other personnel must wear masks at all times.

“Seeing the positive results in other states was a big help to reach this conclusion,” David Hines, executive director of the AIA, said in a statement. “It’s a testament to those associations for putting proper rules in place so football can happen. We have similar numbers and similar safety recommendations as compared to those states.”

Hines stressed that it will take everyone complying with the guidelines and rules to make sure the opportunity to play football doesn’t just exist now, but so the season can continue to move forward after Week 1.

“This is critical for us to stay on the current track,” he said. “It is equally as critical that all involved understand the importance of adhering to the guidance of athletic trainers and medical personnel.”

The recommended guidelines document will continue to be monitored by the AIA and the SMAC, and additional modifications will be made as new information becomes available.

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