Week by week, more football programs across South Carolina add their names to the list of those affected by quarantines due to positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing.
If it happens during the playoffs, teams will be out of luck.
The S.C. High School League made that clear this week, declaring that postseason teams unable to play those games on time because of quarantines would be forced to forfeit, thus ending their season.
The notice, which was sent to the membership’s athletics directors, included some updated specifics on in-practice contact tracing protocols. The message was obtained by MyHorryNews.com Tuesday afternoon. When reached by phone, SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton clarified his reasoning for the hard line approach to the playoffs.
“If we can make the rule before it comes up, that would be as subjective as possible,” he said. “We address those things before it becomes [a bigger issue]. We can only deal with what’s in front of us. I think we’ve averaged each week 6-10% of our games canceled or postponed. And that’s just football.”
A clear goal of the ruling on potential postseason forfeitures is to keep the playoffs on track so the state finals can be held on time. For football, that final weekend is set for Dec. 4-5. The SCHSL announced in August it was eliminating one round of the postseason and cutting the number of qualifiers in each classification in half.
Chances are, some teams won’t even get that opportunity if they do qualify, based on what has already happened during the opening weeks of the regular season. On top of the teams that have lost games due to their own issues with COVID-19, many more have had games postponed or canceled due to scheduling issues with teams that did.
Locally, Aynor’s season opener against Lakewood was the Blue Jackets’ fourth different opponent scheduled for that date. Late Monday evening, a domino effect from teams in the Midlands stripped Carolina Forest of its road game at Westwood, scheduled for Oct. 30.
Additionally, Loris’s season opener against Dillon was postponed due to weather issues and moved to Oct. 30. That left Green Sea Floyds, which was schedule to play Loris that night, short a home game.
Immediately, most schools that have seen the addition of an open date for whatever reason were searching for a replacement game. Given the SCHSL’s position on late-season quarantines, though, is it worth potentially putting a playoff berth at risk for a game that doesn’t matter in the standings?
Those are the questions some athletics directors and coaches are now asking themselves.
“We’re keeping all of our options open,” Carolina Forest Athletics Director Tripp Satterwhite said. “Finding a game may prove very difficult.”
Either way, teams will be walking on egg shells during the final weeks of the regular season and playoffs. Thanks to mostly front-loaded region schedules, a large number of schools from around the state will know their playoff fates in advance of the regular-season finales.
That is important, since a quarantine on or after Oct. 26 would be flirting with the cut-off line between the standard quarantine window and the start of the playoffs.
Nov. 6 is the final week of the regular season.
Theoretically, schools who have non-region contests scheduled for Oct. 30 or Nov. 6 could also then withdraw from those games. The SCHSL’s return-to-play policies dictate that teams would not be penalized for withdrawing from regular-season games due to concerns over COVID-19.
In the playoffs, it will be a different animal. Although Singleton said the league would make every effort to ensure championship games are played, no other rounds will be protected.
MyHorryNews.com contacted 14 coaches from around the state to gauge their reaction to the memo. Ten of them said they had yet to hear about the announcement.
Two expressed concerns with putting even more emphasis on teams to police themselves. Would the fear of losing out on a playoff game or chance to advance further in the postseason affect monitoring, testing and tracing?
Currently, each high school is responsible for reporting its own cases to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
“I have to believe that schools will do the right thing,” Singleton said. “Maybe I’m looking at things through rose-colored glasses. But I trusted them with my kids in the classroom. If they can’t be trusted, I have a lot of things to look at.”