The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association pushed forward with starting fall sports, but with the stipulation that “higher risk” and “lower risk” sports will be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a special business meeting conducted virtually Thursday, July 23, the WIAA Board of Control approved a plan for the 2020-21 school year to start girls golf, girls tennis, girls swimming and diving and boys and girls cross country – sports deemed “lower risk” on Aug. 17. The “higher risk” sports of football, boys soccer and boys and girls volleyball can start Sept. 7.

“The WIAA had a difficult decision to make, and I think that they did the best that they could in deciding with the cards that were on the table,” Verona athletic director Joel Zimba wrote in an email to the Star. “Their decision takes into account the varying impact of the virus from county to county.”

The motion to move forward with fall sports was approved 8-3, and also included language that would provide schools and conferences that cannot play in the fall potential opportunities to play in the spring. The WIAA will work to develop spring options for those schools that cancel fall sports.

The decision by the state’s high school sports governing body came two days after athletic directors from the Big Eight Conference voted unanimously to cancel league competitions and would not crown conference champions, and a week after Badger Conference athletic directors decided to do the same.

“We must ensure that the athletic model aligns with that of academics, whether it be virtual, blended, or in-person instruction,” Zimba said. “For example, if we go the direction of virtual education, the proposed plan to move fall sports to the spring would be a viable option. Once again, what is the best choice for one district may not be for another, even within the Big Eight Conference. We must acknowledge and respect these differences.”

“The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and communities is our top

priority,” Oregon athletic director Mike Carr said. “We understand that this is frustrating and disappointing news for all involved. We know that co-curriculars play an important role in the lives of our students. We will continue to rely on the guidance of our educational partners, including the WIAA, the Badger Conference and local and state health officials in determining when it is safe to resume athletic activities.”

Carr said the district is planning to offer fall sports during the spring semester, pending WIAA details and guidance from local health officials.

The Star obtained a press release sent out by the Badger Conference athletic directors, which gave insight into the fall sports decision.

Complicating matters is the fact that the conference’s 16 schools are spread out across seven counties. Seven schools in the conference are in Dane County.

“This means that plans will vary in different parts of the conference and state, depending on how the virus is spreading in the local area and the guidance from county health departments,” the statement said. “Since all member schools are not able to participate fully in conference contests during the current fall season dates as scheduled, Badger Conference competitions will not be held and conference champions will not be named.”

Eight of the 10 Big Eight Conference members are located in Dane County, which is still in a modified version of Phase 2 of the Forward Dane reopening plan. Most sporting events are still prohibited in the county. Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people or less and outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 or less.

Schools in the Badger Conference have the option to play nonconference competitions as long as they follow guidelines laid out by local public county health departments and the WIAA.

The WIAA also outlined the earliest dates for competition in each fall sport – girls golf (Aug. 20), girls tennis (Aug. 21), boys and girls cross country and girls swimming (Aug. 25), boys soccer and boys and girls volleyball (Sept. 15) and football (Sept. 23 if the first practice is conducted on Sept. 7).

An amendment to move up the start date for “higher risk” sports – which would have been Aug. 24 – failed by a 9-2 vote.

The end of the fall sports seasons remained unchanged, but the Board indicated sports may or may not culminate with traditional state tournament series. In addition, the winter and spring season calendars were not altered.

A proposal by administrators from the southwest part of the state – including Platteville, Black Hawk and Darlington – called on the WIAA to move fall sports to spring 2021 and spring sports to the summer. Fall sports would have started in March and concluded in late May, and spring sports would have started in late May and wrapped up in July.

The “Southwest Plan” is still under consideration, though some administrators objected because of a possible shortage of coaches, officials, facilities, fields and courts. Administrators also noted some senior athletes may not choose to play for their high school, AAU or club teams in the summer after they graduate.