DUNN — On a Zoom call with the media Tuesday afternoon, N.C. High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker announced the organization's decision to extend the current "dead period" for all its member schools through at least June 15.
Tucker says the decision comes after an agreement was made during the NCHSAA Board of Directors' weekly meeting and stressed that guidelines should be taken as just a baseline for each Local Education Agency.
"It is important for you to remember that the [NCHSAA] provides the leadership and the guidance and it's our responsibility to give those minimum rules and regulations," Tucker said on the call. "But all 115 traditional LEA's across this state have autonomy to be much more stringent than we are."
"We would like for everybody to start at the same place and the same time, but that never happens anyway, even without COVID-19," added Tucker. "We respect our superintendents, we respect our principals to make those decisions in the best interest of their communities... and that can be done in excess or much more stringent fashion than the rules and regulations which we will set."
During "dead periods" no NCHSAA school-sponsored activities may be organized or conducted by any coach or school staff member that involve students.
In April, the NCHSAA pegged June 1 as the initial end date of the dead period installed after concerns of COVID-19 shut down all interscholastic sporting events. But the group readjusted the schedule in response to a recent press briefing in which North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced the introduction of Phase 2 of his three-part plan to reopen the state.
Under the phase, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services officials released recommended guidelines for amateur, high school and college sports teams, giving clearance for non-contact activities over those that require touching and less physical distance.
Tucker says in addition to heeding these guidelines, the NCHSAA will continue to work in accord with its sports medicine advisory committee and other organizations like the National Federation of State High School Associations to safely get its athletes back in action.
"In the coaching world, it's not about re-inventing the wheel," Tucker said about the NCHSAA's approach to restarting sports. "It's about taking the wheel somebody else has already invented and make it work in your world. So, that's kind of what we'll be doing."
Of the safety precautions discussed on the call was the idea of a coronavirus vaccine, in which Tucker feels is a crucial element to a return to more crowds at games. She acknowledged a spectator-less event, or the cancellation of some sports in the upcoming school year would hurt programs financially, but added that they aren't "folding up tent" on contact sports like football in the fall.
Tucker also addressed a number of contingency scenarios in the case that state restrictions don't loosen in time for the fall semester. These potential plans included a possible delayed start that could shorten fall sports seasons and affect the number of playoff teams.
She did, however, dismiss the idea of swapping sports seasons saying, "We're not really entertaining that as an idea." Tucker also thinks it would be equally difficult to see the NCHSAA allowing certain counties to resume action before others, siting potential complications associated with cross-regional contests.
NCHSAA officials are meeting with athletic directors across the state over the next couple of weeks to get feedback and talk about safety practices to install when play does resume. Tucker says getting every coach and athletic director new rules and procedures as soon as possible will be key in helping players make adjustments for the regular season.