Indiana High School Athletic Association commissioner Paul Neidig, in his first week on the job, touched on several topics Monday in a Zoom call with the state’s high school athletic directors, confirming the association plans to move forward with fall sports as contests begin this week for girls golf and practices for boys tennis, football, cross-country, volleyball and soccer.
Neidig said there would be more guidance forthcoming from the IHSAA on attendance at sporting events. Under Gov. Eric Holcomb’s five-stage reopening plan, which is currently in stage 4.5, for events and gatherings with more than 250 people, organizers will be required to submit a written plan to their local health department for approval.
Neidig touched on several other topics, including:
>> Masks: “Unless you are involved in strenuous activity, everybody should be masked up at this particular time. That is whether you are coaching, standing on the sidelines, anything. If you are coming to and from practices, wear a mask — unless you are in a strenuous physical activity.”
Neidig said gaiter masks, which are worn around a player’s neck, could be worn during activity and then pulled up to cover the face and nose when a player comes out of a game.
>> On fall sports: “There are a few outliers out there, but the vast majority of schools are planning on participating this fall. And we’re planning on continuing what we’re doing here in the office.”
>> On Illinois, which moved football, volleyball and soccer to the spring and keep golf, tennis, cross-country and swimming in the fall: “That’s an all-in or all-out commitment. They’ve committed to that and are going to start that in January. They are going to have abbreviated seasons that they are going to compete in. One thing that’s not in the documentation: Illinois is not going to contest any state championships in their model. Illinois may offer a first round. In our world it’s called a sectional, in their world it’s called a regional, and it will stop there. But once you commit to that model — let’s say the vaccination does come, treatment options get better, the virus continues to go down — there’s no going back from that model. You are committed to that model for a year. We’ve studied a lot of models in the office and what different models would look like. We’ve just not felt it was particularly prudent at the time to make that change.”
Neidig went on to say, as he has previously, that his perspective on moving football to the spring and non-contact sports like baseball and softball to the fall is that he would not want those sports to potentially miss back-to-back seasons and football to play in the spring and then the fall again for safety reasons.
“I’m not saying anything is off the table,” he said. “I’m just offering some insights into things I’m thinking about and looking at. I don’t have all the answers, but I continue to listen to what are counterparts around us are doing and how they are approaching it.”
The new IHSAA commissioner also touched on how the landscape would change as it relates to club sports if the association shut down athletics.
“Let’s say we did not have fall sports programs,” Neidig said. “From this office’s standpoint, we would be forced back into either opening back up our summer rules and going back into summer mode. Or at a minimum, we would be out of season for our kids. Which means, the problems you are currently considering out there of kids going off to programming outside of the school-based model, where they are going to AAU tournaments, going to softball tournaments, going to baseball tournaments, would continue through the fall. These for-profit entities would continue to operate if we shut down. And the same problems you’re dealing with effectively now by identification, quarantine and working with your student-athletes, are going to be there. … From my conversations with people in health departments, they are not thinking about the alternative. They aren’t thinking about what it looks like if high school athletics are shut down. To take a kid away from their mentors, their teachers, their leaders.”
Neidig was asked specifically about Marion County and what would happen if a county — or multiple counties — are unable to participate in a state tournament.
“I have to make decisions that address the entire state,” Neidig said. “I think that’s what our lens is. I’ve shared that with individuals at (the Marion County health department) and other individuals. Certainly my hope is that we can continue to make a case (for athletics) based on some of those things I’ve stated today that we know we’re better off in our environment rather than allowing non-supervised activities to go on outside of the school day. We have a much better chance to control it if they allow us to stay in contact with our student-athletes after the school day. … We’ll cross that road (on Marion County sports) if we get there and hopefully we don’t.”
Neidig again touched on what he sees as a problematic issue with travel sports if the high school season is shut down.
“Anytime I’ve talked to individuals, I’ve asked the question: ‘What is your plan for non-high school-based athletic programs?’” Neidig said. “AAU events, little leagues and I get crickets when I ask that question. There is no response.”
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.