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Volume 23 No. 28
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Closing Shot: Searching For Those Friday Night Lights

High school football will have to wait until the winter or spring in multiple states across the country as the pandemic inflicts a hit on this cherished hometown tradition.
Socially distanced fans and masked cheering sections watch the Lafayette Broncos take on the West Lafayette Red Devils in Lafayette, Ind., on Aug. 21.
Photo: getty images

High school football is the latest COVID-19 casualty.

So far 16 states have postponed their high school football seasons to the winter or even next spring because of the pandemic, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). While the revenue delayed or lost pales in comparison to college football, high schools are bracing for the loss of their biggest financial driver.

Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the NFHS, said many state high school associations were already pinched by losing basketball championships at the start of the pandemic. “State associations are reporting that if they don’t have football, they will dig deeply into any reserves they have,” she said.

Still, Niehoff said health and safety have guided decisions, not finances. “The priority behind the decisions is not revenue, it’s readiness. But also, when we shut the door and talk with them, revenue is a big concern and football is a big part of that.”

More than 1 million students play high school football. So far no state has outright canceled the sport for the current school year. But these states have said no to high school football in the fall: California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Washington, D.C., has taken a similar position.

Photo: getty images

States that so far have moved forward with fall high school football on schedule or with only slight modifications to the calendar are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

State high school associations are closely aligned with rules enacted by their governors and local health officials. Those that have decided to continue this fall will do so either without fans or with reduced capacity at their stadiums. Many have restricted their schedules to in-state games and usually with only divisional opponents.

Despite the many hurdles,  enough schools played the weekend starting Aug. 21 that the NFHS’s streaming service, NFHS Network, showed more than 300 games. 

To help those returning to play, the NFHS released extensive guidelines for establishing proper protocols, including testing, contact tracing and quarantines.

“As decisions are made, even at local schools, these are collaborative decisions made and the parents, participants, coaches and others are as educated as they can be,” Niehoff said. “We support giving it a go if the level of readiness is there, with a phased-in approach. But plans have to be developed. You have to be paying attention to the kids on a day-to-day basis.”