skip navigation

Opinion: Can we hit the pause button, already?

11/18/2020, 2:45pm CST
By Mark Miller

The following article represents the opinion of boys basketball writer Mark Miller and not that of Wisconsin Sports Network, affiliates, or partners.

We are spiraling out of control with no apparent end in sight. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services statistics released on Wednesday paint a grim picture. 

A record 7,989 positive tests for the COVID virus in the past 24 hours. A record 2,277 patients in hospitals struggling with the virus and another 431 in intensive care. And, most depressing of all, another 52 deaths in the state.

If ever we needed a "pause" button in life, now would be that time. 

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken over. Taken over complete control of our life.

And, that most definitely includes the upcoming high school basketball season. 

More than 40 high schools, including all 20 in the Milwaukee Public Schools system and four in the Madison Public Schools system, already have delayed the start of the season, some to near the end of January, due to the pandemic.

Two schools -- Madison Country Day School and the coop squad between Madison Abundant Life/St. Ambrose -- have pulled the plug on the entire season.

Almost assuredly, more schools will follow. 

Of course, many schools, in fact the majority, are going ahead with the winter sports season.

Kids need the chance to play. They need social interaction. They need to be active. It makes sense.  

COVID is a nightmare that started last March with the cancellation of the boys' and girls' state basketball tournaments. But the COVID numbers now are so far beyond what they were eight months ago, it makes your head spin.

So, we sit here today with a hodgepodge approach, from both the county health departments and from the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA). 

Some counties -- Dane, in particular -- are exceptionally strict on what is allowed and not allowed during this pandemic era. Dane County on Wednesday actually banned indoor gatherings and limited outdoor groupings to just 10 people.

Other counties are much more lax. And the approach to positive cases also varies greatly from county to county. Some require an entire team/school to shut down for a minimum of two-to-three weeks once positive cases are confirmed. Others are not as stringent.   

Meanwhile, the WIAA, which gave fall sports teams the option of moving to a spring season last August, has done nothing in terms of offering winter sports an alternative season. 

With 30 percent of the schools in the state going to the spring option for fall sports, the calendar is already exceptionally tight. You can make a good argument nothing can be done in terms of extending an olive branch for an alternate season for winter sports due to the the time crunch the WIAA will be in during March/April/May/June.

But having more than 40 teams sit on the sidelines -- while programs 10 miles down the road play -- isn't right, either.

Some, many in fact, feel there is a pathway to playing now that is safe. They point to the success of club events held last July, August and into the fall that took place without any known incidents of COVID spread. 

Nobody knows for sure if COVID spread at those events, but kudos to event organizers for following strict protocols in making sure fans and coaches wore masks and social distanced. 

High school basketball, though, is different. 

There is more accountability on school personnel. And, much more pressure on everybody from the superintendent to the principal to the athletic director to the coaches to the school board members.

There might be a pathway to playing safely, but it's very narrow and it's full of scattered landmines. 

In addition to putting together a schedule that makes sense with some schools in-person and others virtual, athletic directors have to find people willing to work at games this winter. 

Finding enough officials to cover boys and girls, JV2, JV1 and varsity games will be a big challenge as some referees have opted to take the year off due to the virus.

The cure for all of this might be a forthcoming vaccine that could (hopefully) wipe away most of the concerns pertaining to COVID. But that remains a few months away.

In the meantime, while it's far less than ideal, I believe the WIAA should halt winter sports until after January 1. And with that, I think they need to relook at their calendar for the rest of the 2020-21 school year. Perhaps equaling dividing the remaining weeks of the school year, plus a good chunk of June, between fall, winter and spring sports would be the best option. 

It might be kicking the can down the road, as there is no guarantee society will be in a better position as it relates to the pandemic on Jan. 1. But, with numbers soaring out of sight, it seems to be the proper decision at this time. 

Schools could have virtual workouts now and then perhaps assemble for practices in late December so they are prepared to begin play on Jan. 2.

Hitting that "pause" button for four or five weeks, wearing masks, social distancing and staying home as much as possible could lead to a much wider pathway for all schools as they attempt to return to some sort of normalcy in 2021. 

But, sad to say, there are no guarantees.  

For the latest and most up to date boys' basketball news and recruiting information, follow Mark on Twitter @wisbbyearbook. Email story ideas, recruiting info, etc. to Mark by clicking here.

Tag(s): News Archive  News  News  Boys Hockey  Girls Hockey  Mark Miller  Wrestling