Just weeks before all fall sport high school athletes were scheduled to participate in their first practices, the University Interscholastic League has announced modifications to the 2020-21 calendar due to the coronavirus pandemic — which has altered things since the middle of March.


In this move, all Class 1A through 4A programs will have a normal start time while Class 5A and 6A schools will need to wait a month before their activities can commence.


Class 1A-4A teams can have their first practices on August 3 with volleyball matches starting on August 10, cross-country meets beginning on August 17 and football kicking off on August 27, as regularly scheduled.


Class 5A-6A teams can hold their first practices, as well as cross country meets and team tennis matches, on September 7 with volleyball matches starting on September 14 and football kicking off on September 24. Based on this, the 122nd Battle of the Ax is now scheduled for Friday, Sept. 25.


In coordinating these dates, there is enough time to complete a total schedule if it allows but also provides flexibility in case there are potential interruptions to playing a full district season. The UIL is encouraging schools to be ready to adjust to ensure district contests are completed.


And as part of this new plan, "schools may allow spectators to attend games, contests or events within a maximum 50% capacity limitation, provided that appropriate spacing between spectators is maintained according to the protocol" and that if Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t alter his executive order before the start of the fall seasons then "All employees, parents, visitors and students ten years of age or older must wear face coverings or face shields upon entry to an area where UIL activities are being conducted and when not actively practicing or playing in the contest, unless an exception listed below applies" with several exceptions to that order.


The UIL said it will continue to work with state officials and monitor CDC and other federal guidance to determine any potential modifications that may become necessary.


The adjustments, which go into effect on August 1, are a reflection of the state's current health situation and accounts for the varying total of COVID-19 cases across Texas. Since larger classifications are in highly-populated metro areas, the plan gives them more time to adjust in order to complete as close to a full schedule as possible.


"Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools," UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt said. "While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread."


The lower classifications are scheduled to hold their playoffs at normal times — volleyball would take place Nov. 18-21 and football will be Dec. 16-19.


In the larger classifications, the state volleyball tournament is now Dec. 11-12 and the end of the football season is scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 4-5 with the state championships to in January on a date to be determined, believed to be the week of Jan. 11. That football playoff schedule will have third-round games on either Dec. 24 or Dec. 26; no games can be played on Christmas Day. The region finals would be the following weekend, which includes options for playing on New Year’s Eve (Thursday) or New Year’s Day (Friday) in addition to Jan. 2.


On Monday, UIL Director of Athletics Dr. Susan Elza and Assistant Athletic Director Brian Polk, a former Van Alstyne head football coach, participated in a webinar for the virtual edition of the Texas High School Coaches Association’s annual coaching school.


Among the nuggets from those conversations included that the UIL’s Friday Night Rule, which prohibits live broadcasts of football games on television or the internet, would be lifted for the 2020 season and that districts might be forced to "get creative" when it comes to schedules for all of the fall athletic seasons — like playing district games first to ensure they get played to determine playoff berths and larger districts — those of eight or more teams — might need to zone their schools, which splits them into two groups and those winners playing for the district title.


Late last week the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools announced their plan for fall sports and how that affects Texoma Christian.


TAPPS’ decision does not have any activities occurring before September 8, which is a full month after the normal calendar, and is as follows:


All fall sports — football, volleyball, cross-country, team tennis, fall golf and swimming — can being strength and conditioning workouts on September 8.


For football, they can begin full-pad practices on Sept. 15, hold one scrimmage the week of Sept. 21 and the first week of games will be Sept. 28 — that first Friday will be October 2.


For volleyball and the other individual fall sports, they can begin practice on Sept. 14 and matches can be held beginning on Sept. 21.


TAPPS is planning for shortened seasons and keeping its scheduled playoff formats for those sports and rejected flipping seasons that would put fall sports in the spring and spring sports in the fall.


When it came to winter sports, like basketball and winter soccer, TAPPS delayed the starting date by two weeks. The new opening day for practice is now November 2 with games beginning on November 12.