The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board voted Thursday in favor of postponing the start of winter high school sports until January as COVID-19 cases in the state continue to surge.
In the past, most notably prior to fall sports, local COVID-19 metrics had to meet specific criteria: less than 100 cases per 100K residents, under 10% positivity and under 10% hospitalizations.
Now, the AIA confirmed Thursday, those criteria no longer apply to the start of winter sports.
Instead, schools must adhere to the following rules for winter sports competition to start: If a student-athlete participates with a non-school team/group, that student-athlete is excluded from practice and competition with the school team for 14 days since the last practice or competition of the non-school team/group; no fans will be permitted until metrics are deemed safe; no scrimmages, invites or regional tournaments aren't allowed; no out-of-state competition; and all modifications must be followed.
Teams must get in at least 14 days of practice before starting competition. The metrics used before will only apply to determine if fans can attend events.
The tournament rule completely cancels the annual Pepsi Holiday Tournament this year, along with scrimmages the basketball programs often do with regional teams prior to the regular season starting. As for the exclusion rule: essentially if a basketball player goes and plays a club baseball game, they must quarantine for two weeks before returning to the basketball team.
Basketball, wrestling, soccer are the sports directly altered by the vote. The spring season has also been slightly changed, with official practices being pushed to Feb. 15 -- a week later than originally planned.
The AIA stated in a press released that the first permissible date for winter sports is Jan. 5 and the final permissible date is Feb. 19.
“We feel that the students are safer within the school environment than not to be in school at all,” AIA Executive Director David Hines said in the press release. “Delaying the start of the season will give our coaches and administrators time to implement safety protocols and put sports modifications in place. Just like getting fall sports off the ground, doing things the right way will allow for our sports to continue.
"The executive board felt it was necessary to fight for these students to have a chance. They see the need in the schools they are representing."
The vote comes just three days after the AIA announced it had recommended the postponement on Monday, and after Hines met with health officials this week regarding high school sports and the rise in COVID-19 cases.
Teams were originally allowed to start practice Monday, Nov. 9, assuming local COVID-19 metrics were met. Neither Coconino County nor Maricopa had met the standards to start full practices.
Flagstaff Unified School District decided during its previous board meeting on Nov. 10 it would continue to follow the AIA's guidance with sports.
For now, FUSD is evaluating the new information and hopes "to have some additional information in the next couple of days after we evaluate the processes," a spokesperson told the Arizona Daily Sun via email Thursday afternoon.