5 questions with spring football

5 questions with spring football

Editor’s Note: The following column first ran at wissports.net. Wisconsin Heights will play spring football. Sauk Prairie played last fall. As far as anyone knows, the first-ever high school football games in Wisconsin played in the spring are just over a week away, as those teams who moved from the fall to the alternate spring season get underway next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The anticipation for this spring season has been high, both for the players and teams that haven’t played a football game in nearly 18 months, and for those wondering just how this unprecedented spring option will look and work. When the WIAA voted to allow teams to move to the spring, and schools made the choice to opt for that alternative, there was an understanding that there would need to be some logistical items figured out in the meantime, and that some things would work differently than a “normal” fall season. Schools have continued to work through those processes, but some questions remain. Below, we take a look at some of those lingering questions related to the spring football season and what the outcome of those could be. 1. HOW BIG OF AN IMPACT WILL WEATHER AND FIELD CONDITIONS HAVE? Many schools anticipated this challenge, and quite a few of those without Turf fields made plans to hold their games somewhere besides their regular school field. As outlined in our article published earlier this week, in a redesigned Flyway Conference, all games were initially scheduled to be played at one of three locations that boast Turf: Ingalls Field in Ripon, Lomira High School, and Kewaskum High School. This resulted in some teams playing at one of those neutral site locations on Thursdays, while most Fridays feature double-headers at one or more of those stadiums, with a game beginning at 4:30 and another following at 7:30. Omro has adjusted their schedule slightly and any home games for the Foxes are slated to be played at their own natural grass field, with the neutral site Turf fields serving as a backup if field conditions deteriorate. In addition, work is continuing on the new Turf field at Saint Mary’s Springs, and there is a chance some late-season games could be featured there. Big Foot High School, which installed Turf several years ago, is serving as a host location for several neutral site contests in the redesigned Rock Valley Conference. Some teams are taking advantage of the recently constructed Turf field at Wisconsin Dells High School, with nearby Woodside Sports Complex in Mauston hosting some early-season contests as well. While not hosting multiple games in a day, other neutral site locations being utilized include DeForest High School, Amherst High School, an d La Crosse Logan High School. Some Turf locations are being considered as backup options in the event field conditions don’t allow natural grass contests, including Southwestern High School, UW-Platteville, UW-La Crosse and others. While teams have made plans, some are not able to to move their games and will have to do their best to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws at them this spring. Not only could they be faced with subpar field conditions in the next couple months, but any poor field condition games or practices could impact the quality of the grass and field conditions later in the summer and fall during the next football season. 2. HOW MANY GAMES WILL BE IMPACTED BY COVID-RELATED TEAM SHUTDOWNS? Teams that played in the fall knew there was a chance they could have players or coaches test positive for COVID and possibly be shut down for a period of time, potentially having games canceled or moved. The question wasn’t whether that would happen, but how often. Based on our tracking of COVID-impacted games in the fall, more than 75% of scheduled contests took place, while 25% had to be canceled or postponed. That number started more positively early in the season, with about 85% of Week 1 games being contested, but dipped some later in the season, with a couple weeks of percentages below 70%. September, October, and November of last year were a time when the pandemic and daily case rates grew in Wisconsin, eventually peaking in late November. The current daily case rate is the lowest it has been since June of last year, and less than 10% of where the rate was in early November of 2020. With more and more Wisconsinites receiving vaccinations, there is hope that number will continue to drop. Still, as we saw continuing into the winter sports, there is the risk that a player, coach, or other team representative could be exposed or test positive, resulting in possible team shut downs and canceled games. The WIAA has provided Return to Play guidance that is very similar to what was in place in the fall, and every school will be taking precautions to prevent issues. But it would be naive to think that no teams or games will be impacted. Once again, the question isn’t whether any games will be canceled, but how many. 3. HOW WILL THE SPRING SEASON IMPACT PROGRAM NUMBERS AND PARTICIPATION? This was a significant unknown for many coaches and programs when the move to the spring season was announced. A myriad of challenges could impact participation numbers at schools, and many are continuing to work through them. In communicating with more than a dozen coaches from teams of various sizes and locations around the state, program numbers do not seem to significantly impacted with the move to the spring schedule. Some coaches have indicated they’ve added a few players that haven’t played in the past, perhaps because they no longer have another fall sport to compete with, they are looking to stay active during a time when nothing else is going on, or they just are intrigued by the novelty of a spring football season. Still, even teams who have seen their overall numbers stay relatively unchanged have experienced a few players not participating due to a desire to prepare for the upcoming baseball season or perhaps compete in club basketball. Those reasons, baseball preparation and club hoops, have led to a slight loss of numbers at some schools. Depending on the size of school and their participation numbers, it may be a small enough number to absorb without too many problems, but in smaller schools, it is causing a bit of a crunch on the overall number of players available. Many of the player losses have come at the lower levels, not necessarily varsity players who are looking to get that one last football experience. With the spring football season overlapping slightly with the start of spring sports, schools and coaches have worked closely within their buildings to try to avoid making players have to choose one or the other. Some football teams have only scheduled five or six games instead of the full allotment of seven available, while others have indicated they will scale back the length or number of practices later in the year to allow athletes to get a bit of a jump start on the traditional spring sports. 4. HOW WILL PLAYERS’ BODIES & CONDITIONING ADJUST TO SPRING SEASON, AND WHAT WILL IT MEAN FOR FALL? This one is a bit of a mixed bag, and varies by situation. Obviously there was not a summer weights and conditioning period leading up to the start of this spring football season. However, some coaches have indicated that athletes who participated in a winter sport are coming in in very good shape. However, those that did not compete in a winter sport have some catching up to do. In general, it has been harder for players and schools to do weight room and conditioning during this pandemic time period, with limits on how many athletes can use the weight room at a time and some schools doing virtual schooling with no or very limited access to the building at all. Usually, we’re concerned with heat acclimation at the beginning of football, but that isn’t an issue right now, with shoveling snow and wearing layers under pads more of a concern. Still, players will have to get used to wearing pads, moving with them on, etc. Perhaps the bigger issue is how this spring season will impact non-senior players that come back and compete in the fall. They will have less than three months from the last week of the spring season until the first practices of fall begin, and that doesn’t include any impact of participating in a traditional spring sport, summer conditioning or sports options, or out-of-season contact days. Any players that suffer injuries this spring will have much less time to recover and possibly get back on the field in the fall. 5. IS THERE REGRET ABOUT NOT PLAYING IN THE FALL? I doubt you will get anyone to admit this one, but after seeing 283 teams successfully complete their fall seasons, even with some challenges and impacted games, you have to wonder how many coaches or schools wished they had given it a go in the fall. Certainly the COVID situation is better now, but as outlined above, the teams playing in the spring have to deal with weather and field condition challenges, the loss of some players to other options, and butting up against the traditional spring sports (leading some to reduce their games scheduled). Some places could not have played in the fall because of local health department decisions, and the choice was taken out of their hands. But two of the areas that were among the earliest to make the move to spring, Madison and Milwaukee, are not competing even in this alternate spring schedule. It certainly seemed like some schools followed the lead of the Madison and Milwaukee schools in first pushing for an alternate option and then making the move to the spring. If those two large school districts had not moved, would others have stayed it out in the fall? If the WIAA knew that the four Madison Metropolitan School District schools and the 14 Milwaukee Public Schools teams were not going to compete in the spring, would they have even made a spring option available? Not questions that we will ever get definitive answers to, but interesting things to speculate on nonetheless.

Editor’s Note: The following column first ran at wissports.net. Wisconsin Heights will play spring football. Sauk Prairie played last fall.




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