NCHSAA extends dead period into mid-June in latest COVID-19 update

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 5/26/20

Commissioner Que Tucker on Tuesday announced the NCHSAA’s extension of its “dead period” from June 1 until at least June 15 and laid out a tentative plan for high school sports …

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NCHSAA extends dead period into mid-June in latest COVID-19 update

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Commissioner Que Tucker on Tuesday announced the NCHSAA’s extension of its “dead period” from June 1 until at least June 15 and laid out a tentative plan for high school sports teams to return to modified summer workouts in mid-June.

That timeframe, Tucker said, is contingent upon North Carolina’s COVID-19 testing metrics and further guidance from the state. If the NCHSAA reaches June 15 and “it looks like we are ready,” she said, the association intends for all sports to be able to work out — although drills and procedures would differ dramatically for contact sports such as wrestling and football.

“We know these workouts will look different than traditional summer workouts,” Tucker said.

Until at least June 15, though, NCHSAA schools — including the five located in Chatham County — will remain in a dead period. (In such periods, coaches aren’t allowed to organize official workouts, conditioning or similar activities for their teams.)

In a wide-ranging, hour-long Zoom news conference, Tucker also touched on the monetary importance of football season, the NCHSAA’s own finances and the possibilities of shortening fall seasons and playoffs, among other topics.

Her updates came five days after Gov. Roy Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, the Department of Health and Human Services secretary, laid out their recommendations for resuming non-contact sports under the state’s Phase 2 guidelines last Friday.

Here are three more broad takeaways from Tucker’s interview.

Not yet ‘folding up the tent’ on football

Football is a serious revenue booster for college and high school athletic departments alike. Tucker said the NCHSAA is “not at the point yet where we are folding up the tent on football” in the fall and is hopeful games may be played in front of “at least some fans.”

Although nothing in the association’s bylaws would prohibit it from moving seasons entirely, Tucker said that is a “last resort” for football and all other fall sports. More likely alternatives, she said, include shortened regular-season schedules and fewer teams in the playoffs.

These ideas fit into the NCHSAA’s goal of operating “with the end in mind” — that is, to set a target goal of when it wants fall sports to finish their seasons and work backward to evaluate potential start times.

Such an approach, Tucker said, keeps the NCHSAA flexible in regards to winter sports. One hypothetical scenario she gave: what if the association had to shorten its basketball season after starting its football season later in the fall? Since basketball season could potentially help recoup the money schools lost from a shortened football season, the NCHSAA would want to avoid such a situation, if at all possible.

Tucker also touched on the issues of filling football stadiums at a lower capacity, such as 50 percent, if the NCHSAA gets to a point where that’s a legitimate option for resuming the sport.

“We know that Friday Night Football is a big deal in just about every county in this state,” she said. “And then, when you start saying to certain people, ‘Well, you're not going to be able to get into this home game,’ then that becomes problematic. So how do you do that in an equitable manner?”

Taking ‘a hit’ financially

The NCHSAA Board of Directors has discussed the monetary impact of canceling its remaining winter championships and spring seasons/championships. Tucker said the main loss came from ticket revenue.

During the playoffs, for example, the NCHSAA adds a $1 surcharge to all tickets, pools that money and distributes it to schools. The lack of men’s and women’s basketball state title games — plus a slew of spring sport playoff events — obviously eliminated that practice.

“That pot of money is down,” Tucker said. “So our as we look at our investments, our financial managers have said, ‘Yes, you've taken a hit.’”

But, she added, the association’s financial managers think the NCHSAA will ultimately have some overages (or surpluses) in its overall budget.

“We’ve had less expenses, not only in our operations, but less expenses because we have not had these spring sports,” Tucker said. “That will also be a part of the formula that is used to come up with how to get those monies (we lost) back.”

The NCHSAA isn’t responsible for directly funding high school athletic programs, but it has utilized interest from some “wise investments” — including an endowment that began in 1991 — to provide schools money of varying amounts. Those checks usually go out in late July or early August.

Outside of that standard procedure, Tucker said the board has not yet determined whether it needs to “step forward” and provide further financial assistance to any schools that may struggle with securing proper equipment for the potential workout start date.

“I’m sure that our Department of Public Instruction, along with our State Board of Education, are accessing every possible way to get monies to be able to help our schools as it relates to PPE,” Tucker said. “Athletics, they would not be separated out from that (funding). So I'm very hopeful that those avenues will be available for them to get some help as we go along.”

‘At least a week’ of notice

The board decided to extend the NCHSAA dead period, which previously ran until June 1, in a session Monday night. It informed member schools of that extension (until June 15) on Tuesday morning.

For future updates, Tucker said the NCHSAA wants to provide information in a similar timeframe: at least a week before significant changes or updates go into effect — if not sooner. Plans are “already in the works” for what she called the NCHSAA’s “Phase 2,” which would include the aforementioned workouts. (She referred to the NCHSAA’s current dead period as its “Phase 1.”)

“If (June 15) is the date, then we certainly need to have something to our schools at least one week away,” Tucker said.

Such notice, she said, is crucial because it gives schools time to assess what equipment they need, how to get it and how to optimize their facilities for socially distanced workouts and conditioning.

“We want to be able to hear from (athletic directors) to give them some information and then to give them some ideas of things that they need to be working on right now,” she said.

Throughout her news conference, Tucker emphasized June 15 is by no means a hard deadline. In the coming weeks, the board will work with its staff, the state and the NCHSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to “finalize plans” for its second phase and assess if June 15 is a realistic date to begin it.

“As more information is learned about the virus, how it spreads rates and how that spread can be limited,” Tucker said, “precautions are being added and revised to ensure that we’re doing all that we can from a health and safety perspective to limit the spread of the virus.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler: cfowler@chathamnr.com, @chapelfowler

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