“I Just Want to Play Football.”
MIC Football Players Navigate Uncertain Status of Season
The opening kickoff to the high school football season is scheduled to start in a little more than a month. Meanwhile players and coaches are preparing for a season that is already on thin ice.
Last week, schools reopened for student-athletes to resume training in a limited capacity. Most schools had a successful first week, but a few area schools like Fishers had to hit the pause button due to student-athletes testing positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, dominos are beginning to fall around the MIC. Washington Township schools, including North Central high school, have indefinitely suspended on-campus athletic activities and have announced the Fall semester will begin online. Wayne and Warren Townships, home to Ben Davis and Warren Central, respectively, have pushed back reopening dates.
Back in May and early June, there was cautious optimism the football season would go on as planned. That optimism has faded.
The mood from coaches could be best described as mixed. A coach told IndyStar High School Sports Reporter Kyle Neddenriep that it is “a long shot” that a full season will go on as scheduled beginning Aug. 21. Other coaches have expressed concerns despite practices resuming last week, according to Neddenriep.
To get a sense of how student-athletes were feeling, the MIC Network reached out to dozens of student-athletes that attend MIC schools. 43 student-athletes responded to questions about how practices have been since school-sponsored activities resumed, the optimism regarding this season and potential alterations to the season starting next month.
Players interviewed were very comfortable with the health and safety protocols instituted by the school. 84% of players said they felt “extremely comfortable” about their team/school’s protocols.
Players want to play, but mixed on if a season will start on time
Despite the current climate with COVID-19, players were adamant that they want to play football. 33-of-43 players felt “extremely comfortable” about playing football in midst of a pandemic. Only one player voted that they felt “extremely uncomfortable.”
The level of optimism for a season, however, is mixed. Players were asked to rate the probability of playing a full season (and playoffs) as scheduled. 21 players expressed some level of optimism that the season will start on schedule. 13 expressed some at least some concern, and nine were mixed.
Players (mostly) okay with a shortened or delayed season
If it isn’t safe to start the football season on Aug. 21, could we see schools shortening their seasons or delaying football to the Spring like certain NCAA schools? That hypothetical has yet to be exercised by any IHSAA school, but for the case of this exercise players were presented with two alternative solutions: a shortened Fall season and a season delayed to the Spring.
When presented with an option to shorten the season, most players surveyed were open to the idea. On a 1-to-7 scale (less likely to most likely), 30 players voted “5” or higher, while only six players voted “3” or lower. Seven players were undecided.
More players were on board for a football season to be played in the Spring if it meant reducing further spread of COVID-19. 32 players voted in favor of this alternative (5 or higher), four voted not in favor (3 or lower) and seven were undecided.
“I know everyone wants to get on the field, but safety must come first,” an anonymous player from Pike High School wrote when asked about potential changes to the football season.
A football season in the Spring presents several logistics issues for athletic departments and student-athletes. Several football players also play a Spring sport, meaning they may have to decide between two sports.
Pike wide receiver Zavier Simpson doesn’t care about logistics. He just wants to play.
“Football is my passion, and my team and I have been working so hard for a chance to prove that we can be one of the best teams in the state; if not the best,” Simpson said. “We all want the chance to prove that and win for ourselves, our families, and our school. Also, there are so many hardworking athletes in the state with aspirations to play on the next level. Many of these athletes, like myself, have been dreaming of the chance to participate in college athletics for years. We will do anything to compete in our fall sports this school year, even if it’s moved to spring.”
Most players against a Spring football season don’t want to risk an injury before the 2021 season. Take for example Matt Soderdahl, a rising senior at Center Grove. Soderdahl plans to play at the collegiate level and does not want to jeopardize that opportunity by playing football in the Spring.
“I already have offers to play at the college level and playing football in the spring wouldn’t get me anymore or better offers,” Soderdahl said. “I would also want to spend the spring preparing for college football and getting my body ready instead of risking injury right before I go to play football at college.”
As of now, the IHSAA is committed to starting the 2020-2021 athletic season on schedule.
The time of waiting things out in hopes of a smaller presence of COVID-19 is over. If things don’t improve between now and mid-August, some very difficult decisions will have to be made.