BUTTE — These days, predicting the near future of sports is about as sure a thing as anticipating what Montana’s summer weather is going to do the next hour.
That said, while athletes are in gyms and on fields across the state this month as part of voluntary workouts, the Montana High School Association is anticipating sunnier skies and as of now are proceeding forward with plans for fall high school sports to begin on time with fully scheduled seasons and postseasons.
On the other side of that coin, the MHSA is simultaneously laying the groundwork to make adjustments on the fly in case eventual COVID-19 outbreaks derail competition as it did with both the state basketball championships and the spring sports season.
In other words, hope for the best, but also plan for COVID's worst.
“We’re on schedule right now to start practices and a full season,” MHSA Director Mark Beckman said during a phone interview on Thursday with 406mtsports. “But everyone knows with the uncertainty, we’ll have to be flexible.”
Currently, all high school fall sports are set to begin practicing on Aug. 14 with all classes cleared to begin competing on Aug. 27.
With coronavirus cases still climbing across the state, there's still uncertainty on how fall sports will unfold or what kind of setbacks may lie ahead.
To adapt to any potential case spikes, Beckman said that he and the MHSA Executive Board of Directors are working on devising framework of a “tiered system” with each tier being a set of increasingly drastic contingency plans.
The system is still being developed, with Beckman noting that MHSA is hoping to have a system finalized and ready for implementation by mid-July. Depending on how severe a possible outbreak might be, lower tiers could be used to push back games while higher, and more radical tiers could be used to cut non-conference and then conference games.
Beckman said every effort will be made to avoid postseasons being pushed back in order to avoid having to hold playoff games in poor weather.
"If there's long delays or a shutdown, we'll look at alternate formats," Beckman said. "Maybe we have to shorten the season a bit and look at a different postseason format. We'll work through it."
Montana moved into Phase 2 of Gov. Steve Bullock's staggered reopening plan on June 1. There's no timeline on when the state will enter Phase 3, and Beckman doesn't think there will be much of a differentiation between the phases outside of possibly allowing more spectators.
"It's not going to change too much but Phase 3 allows more opportunities," Beckman said. "We’re hoping that everything will be able to start on time and continue. But if not we will be ready for and have plans in place."