GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Gulfport’s Bryan Caldwell is one of a few athletic directors on the coast that have growing concerns about participating in fall sports, specifically football.
“I want us to return to normalcy as much as anyone, but I think we have to be forward thinking enough to look for other alternatives,” Caldwell told WLOX.
“I’m worried about the fact that we’re going to social distance at school all day. We’re not even going to eat lunch in the cafeteria, but at three o’clock, we’re going to go try and play football. Once you get a positive on your team and then you have to start shutting down different parts of your locker room because of exposure, what happens if that occurs in the middle of the season the week before you play a district game? I don’t know if we have considered all of those possibilities yet.”
On Monday, Pass Christian suspended all football activities for two weeks after a coach tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. The national federation classifies football as a high-risk sport because it’s impossible to be socially distant. After reading an article from Ohio, Caldwell is suggesting that football be played in the spring.
“Why not start the school year playing those lower-risk sports that naturally lend themselves to social distancing? They have smaller crowds and it’s easier to control. Hopefully we can get through the fall by ourselves, six more months for the medical community to come up with better treatment, maybe a vaccine and give us a chance to play football.”
Whether played under the bright Friday night lights or on Saturday afternoon, football games are the “money makers” for nearly every athletic program on the prep and collegiate level. If the season were to be cancelled, it could have a massive trickle down effect to other sports.
“A fourth of our income comes from football and most athletic departments are in the same situation. If we lose that money, I can’t pay the bills. I can’t pay for golf, tennis, cross country, swim, power lifting, sports that don’t creat a lot of revenue,” Caldwell said.
“Even if the MHSAA allows us to play half of a season or they allow us to play a full season, but at 25 percent capacity in the stadium, that will kill us financially. I don’t know how we can recover from that. So the idea of flipping the seasons is basically a effort to save the football season and the other fall sports, for that matter. It will allow us to play in some form or fashion at some point.”
If there’s going to be a drastic change to the sports calendar for South Mississippi teams, Caldwell believes it has to be done by mid-July. Otherwise, it would be too late. Caldwell also feels that playing golf, tennis, and other “socially distant” sports would be good for the student athletes who had their seasons cut short.
“I think they’re chomping at the bit to play and I think that can be easily done,” Caldwell said. “Again, it buys us six more months to figure this thing out.”
“This is a health matter more than a sports matter. We’ve got to do what we can to allow kids to play safely, but at the same time do what we can do to financially make athletics viable.”
Caldwell tells WLOX that ten coast athletic directors have drafted a proposal to switch fall sports to the spring for the MHSAA to consider. The executive committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, June 30th.
As of right now, the MHSAA plan to start fall sports on time.