Schools have increasing flexibility under Phase 2.5, NCHSAA says

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The NCHSAA expanded its indoor and outdoor gathering limits to 25 and 50 people, respectively, among other changes announced last week in its latest coronavirus-related update.

Indoor and outdoor workouts were previously limited to 10 and 25 people, in accordance with Phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 re-opening plan. But with Cooper’s Phase 2.5 in effect as of Sept. 4, the NCHSAA adjusted its guidelines last Tuesday to match those of the governor’s office.

“We are looking forward to fully resuming sports in November,” commissioner Que Tucker said in an email to member schools, announcing the changes. “As always, we will continue to monitor health and safety guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Nothing else changed with the NCHSAA’s sports-specific guidelines for fall “skill development sessions,” or unofficial workouts, which remain in what the association is calling an NCHSAA Phase 2. No session can exceed 90 minutes, everyone must keep a 6-foot distance and no contact is allowed.

But last week’s loosened gathering limits give member schools even more flexibility than before.

Athletes are already allowed to share equipment in “pods” of five to 10. So an indoor sports team, such as volleyball, could now conceivably hold a workout for its entire roster.

And the 50-person outdoor limit allows larger teams, such as football and cross country, to also meet with more athletes for workouts at once rather than splitting them into multiple sessions.

The NCHSAA, in its updated guidelines, reiterated that all skill development sessions must be voluntary, and coaches can’t use them as a prerequisite for making a team later on.

“Any coach who promotes the idea that taking part in off-season skill development is required is blatantly out of compliance with the intent and purpose of this rule,” the association said.

Playoff dates released

The association also released a full playoff schedule Tuesday, adding to the overhauled 2020-21 athletics calendar it revealed in mid-August.

Team and individual sports will all have the chance to compete in conference tournaments/meets before the playoffs, if their conferences choose to hold them.

All team sports will compete in a 32-team bracket, a 50% downsize of the usual 64-team system, except for football, which will be subdivided into two 16-team brackets per classification.

Playoffs for each team sport — full schedules can be found on nchsaa.org — wrap up in roughly 10 days. Men’s and women’s basketball, for example, will hold their first round of playoffs on Tuesday, Feb. 23 and their state championships on Saturday, March 6.

Cross country, swimming and diving, tennis, golf and wrestling will all compete in regional meets followed by state championship meets the following weekends.

Tennis and wrestling athletes will only compete on an individual basis — there won’t be any dual-team, bracketed championships.

Scrimmages and other notes

Along with its skill development guidelines, which dictate how teams can work out, and its updated calendar, the NCHSAA released another document last week, outlining modified sports guidelines.

That memo included the aforementioned playoff information and other notable nuggets.

There’s a new rule on scrimmages: all team and individual sports can hold one two-hour scrimmage, but those are limited to two teams at maximum. That, not surprisingly, ended the concept of events like the Jack Shaner Jamboree, an annual football scrimmage at Northwood which drew seven teams last year.

Cross country, swimming and diving and track field had their regular-season event limit boosted from 10 to 14. That puts every sanctioned sport on track for 14 total games/meets and no more than two a week, with football as an outlier with seven total games and one a week.

As Tucker intimated last month, the association also adjusted rules to compensate for weather, which may play a key role this winter for normally fall/spring sports such as soccer and lacrosse.

Any team may now participate in one extra weather-delayed contest a week that won’t count against its usual weekly limit of two (and one for football). Competing in more than three in a week is possible, but schools must demonstrate “extenuating circumstances” and get NCHSAA approval to do so.

This second round of updates is another step toward North Carolina’s 2020-21 high school sports season, which is slated to begin with cross country and volleyball practices Nov. 4.

Tucker, the commissioner, spoke last week to the N.C. State Board of Education, housed under the state Department of Public Instruction, about the NCHSAA’s efforts and expressed confidence in its progress.

“We still have hopes that we will one day move to Phase 3, and that will increase even further the mass gathering numbers,” she said.

Tucker added: “We want to offer education-based athletics. We want sports to return. We’re keenly aware they cannot return without us doing everything we can to keep young people safe.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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