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West Virginia alters fall sports schedules

West Virginia high school athletes will have to wait a little while longer to be able to begin their fall sports season.

Governor Jim Justice and Secondary Schools Activities Commission Executive Director Bernie Dolan jointly announced Friday that prep sports in the Mountain State will not begin official practice until Aug. 17 with competition beginning Aug. 24 for golf, Sept. 2 for cross country, volleyball, soccer and cheering and football can begin on Sept. 3.

The date change follows Justice’s recommendation, which was announced during his Wednesday coronavirus briefing.

During that same briefing, Justice also made it known that West Virginia students will not go back to school any earlier than Sept. 8.

Prep football practices were originally slated to start on Aug. 3 with the first contests scheduled for Aug. 27.

Basically, that opening week is being scrapped. However, since West Virginia utilizes a bye week, giving the schools 11 weeks to play 10 games, it’s conceivable that several schools will still play the full complement of games, but they may have to jockey their schedules to do so.

“We’re keeping the other dates and not extending the tournament,” Dolan said. “Everyone will have Week 1 as a bye week, so they’ll have to try to fill in a tenth game, but there are many schools, from time to time, that only play nine games.”

Many schools throughout the Mountain State are currently in the midst of their three-week, summer practice window. Those can continue as scheduled, but when they conclude all schools will then go back into ‘Phase Two’ of conditioning and weight training.

“The schools all have guidelines and protocols if something happens in the three-week window,” Dolan said. “They’re able to stop or cease as needed if an issue arises. But, I don’t see any reason to not allow that to continue.”

When the teams fully reconvene and begin practice, they’ll still have the opportunity to play one scrimmage, but they won’t be able to have contact in practice until Aug. 25, fulfilling the rules dealing with acclimation.

Dolan is well aware that additional schedules could arise in the coming weeks. Not only may the West Virginia calendar change again, but none of the bordering states — Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia or Pennsylvania — have formally announced their plans for the grid season.

“We’ll have to be creative with our schedules,” Dolan said.

West Virginia has a rule that requires a school to play a minimum of eight games to be able to qualify for the postseason, but Dolan believes that may be adjusted.

Another adjustment to the West Virginia system may come in what’s deemed a forfeit or a no contest. Should a school have to suspend its season for a couple of weeks — by the order of their county health department — due to a COVID-19 issue, those affected games would count as a no-contest and not be counted toward either school’s playoff points.

While the idea of spring football has become a hot topic, Dolan would much rather do everything possible to keep the seasons as planned.

“There would have to be a lot of issues in the fall for us to switch seasons,” Dolan said. “We’re trying to get all of our sports in during the course of the (school) year.”

The remaining sports are losing just a little bit more than a week of their season, too. However, since those sports play more than one game or match a week, they’re offered considerably more flexibility to make up games in the early schedule that might have been affected.

Dolan also doesn’t think it’s an “all or nothing” proposition for sports in the fall, meaning even if football — for instance — couldn’t play due to safety, there could still be golf or volleyball.

“All of our fall sports present different challenges, but I do think you could get some of them easier than others,” Dolan said.

Other guidelines about prep sports, including about fans, will be forthcoming at a later date.

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