By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. — The body that governs Wisconsin high school sports approved a major overhaul Friday to season structures heading into the new school year, including lengthening games and extending seasons beyond state championship tournaments.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association said the changes are designed to give athletes the best chance to play as the coronavirus threatens to scuttle competition.
The plan allows for a fifth quarter in football games and extra innings in baseball and softball games to allow reserves a chance to get on the field. Teams eliminated from postseason tournaments would be allowed to schedule additional games until the school season officially ends. In the past, tournament elimination meant the end of a team’s season.
“We want schools to schedule where and when they can, every chance they get.” WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson said. “We want to find a way to give a kid a chance.”
The plan also eliminates the minimum number of games needed to qualify for post-season tournament play and allows athletes to participate in two tournaments with their club teams during their school’s season. Right now they can participate in only one club game during their school’s season. Schools that choose to leave their conference to find games wouldn’t face any sanctions.
The WIAA’s board of control adopted the plan unanimously with little discussion.
The board voted last month to delay the start of fall sports, by several weeks, with low-risk sports such as golf beginning Monday and high-risk sports such as football and volleyball starting Sept. 7.
The board also directed the WIAA during that July meeting to come up with a plan to let schools move fall sports to the spring. Anderson presented a reduced season schedule Friday that the board adopted unanimously.
But the schedule doesn’t come without problems. A final calendar the WIAA released Friday afternoon shows football, girls golf and boys and girls cross-country would overlap with baseball, softball and track by several weeks, forcing multisport athletes to choose between their fall and spring sports.
The calendar also doesn’t include a state championship for spring football.
The votes came after Tim McGuine, a sports researcher with the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine, gave a presentation on how a lack of sports is leading to depression and mental health issues among high school athletes.
McGuine, who serves on medical advisory committees for both the WIAA and the National Federation of State High Schools Association, conducted a national survey of high school athletes in May. He told the board that the survey revealed high levels of anxiety and depression among athletes who can’t play due to the pandemic, particularly among female athletes, team sport athletes and poor athletes who have no other social outlet and rely on school counselors and coaches to help navigate life.
He said the risk of coronavirus transmission through high school sports is low but “the consequences of not playing are pretty intense.”
“Limiting these opportunities through the school year or through the fall or the spring or whatever is only going to exacerbate these symptoms,” he said. “High school sports should be offered as a crucial and necessary intervention to help kids stay healthy.”