LINCOLN — Football and other high school sports in Nebraska this fall could take place even if students aren’t in school buildings, the executive director of the NSAA told a statewide television audience Thursday night.
On Gov. Pete Ricketts’ weekly town hall on NET during the coronavirus pandemic, the NSAA’s Jay Bellar said opening the fall season will depend on what the state social distancing guidelines are at that time.
“When we start school and we’re working remotely, if the local health departments and the governor’s office and the commissioner of education and we all agree that is something we can do as long as we follow the parameters set, we will start our sports,” Bellar said.
The first step to resuming high school sports is the June 1 opening of weight rooms and gyms for strength and conditioning work only. That’s the same day baseball and softball teams can begin practice in advance of a June 18 start date for games.
“Our goal is hopefully we get a fall season, and if we don’t take care of this summer, I don’t see it happening in the fall, and I don’t want (that) to happen,” Bellar said. “So I’m hoping everybody buys in.”
Bellar and Ricketts said to reopen sports, there must be buy-in on social distancing during the summer, then sports still will have to adapt to the prevailing health conditions.
“All these events are going to look different, not going to look like they did last year,” the governor said in response to a question about the status of the national high school rodeo finals in Lincoln in July.
When asked whether high school football will look different, Bellar said, “I think that’s pretty safe to say. I wouldn’t think the game would change itself, but the way it looks is going to change. The number of people in the crowds probably is going to be affected. And again, that is a direct reflection on our office, too, because that’s how we financially survive.”
When asked why individual skills work for sports such as shooting baskets or serving volleyballs couldn’t be allowed with the June 1 opening, Bellar said a starting point had to be created.
“We’re hoping that again if we follow the protocols we have in place now, maybe within two or three weeks, and I’m not saying that it can, but something else could open up and we could do those things,” he said.
He acknowledged that many high school students have sports as their summer pastime and not having team and individual camps, as are currently prohibited for NSAA schools, is adding to the stress of having lost a normal school routine.
“Mental health is not only on the older end of the population,” Bellar said. “It’s delved into our high school kids too, because I’ve had superintendents call me and say, ‘Jay, you have to take that into account when you have these restrictions on there about our kids. They’re struggling with this, even at the age of 14, 15 and 16.’ ”
Bellar said current high school students will not have to get new physicals to be eligible for athletics, but those will be needed for incoming freshmen to meet catastrophic insurance requirements.