Less than a month after the Maine Principals’ Association released its four-step plan to safely allow student-athletes to participate in school-sponsored athletics during the on-going COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the organization announced on Tuesday, July 21 its intentions to delay the start — and shorten the length — of the fall high school sports season.

Based on recommendations from the MPA’s Sports Medicine Committee, the Interscholastic Management Committee met Tuesday and made the decision to postpone the start of the fall season to Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Preseason fall practices and games usually begin in August.

The MPA is the governing body for member high school varsity athletic programs.

Currently, many, but not all, schools statewide are in the second of the MPA’s four-phase plan to have student-athletes safely return to athletics, which began with Phase I on Monday July 6 and continued to Phase II on Monday, July 20.

Details are being developed for Phase III — which will go from Monday, Aug. 3 to Sunday, Aug. 23 (extending the original timeline by one week) — while Phase IV, which originally did not have a timeline, will begin Monday, Aug. 24 and conclude Monday, Sept. 7, with tryouts and/or team practices to begin the following day.

The first countable regular-season games can commence no earlier then 3 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17.

Medomak Valley athletic director Matt Lash said: "This is certainly encouraging news" and "We are prepared to do whatever we can for a return to interscholastic athletics."

"All we can do is continue to plan for a fall season and put all safety measures in place that will be needed to pull it off," he said. "Indeed, regional scheduling will be a certainty and transportation continues to be a hurdle that we need to figure out. Like our return to school efforts, much of what we are used to in planning and facilitating education-based athletics will look different. We will continue to move forward with our current Phase II training at MVHS and look for guidelines soon on what Phase III will look like in August."

New Belfast athletic director Matt Battani echoed the sentiments that "it is positive news."

"It gives us hope that we may be allowed to have seasons," said Battani. "Fall schedules will need to be reworked now given the slight delay. Our athletes and coaches are continuing summer training under MPA Phase II guidelines. We are looking forward to the MPA publishing the guidelines for Phase III."

Fall sports in Maine under the MPA consist of football, soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf. There also are school club sports, such as mountain biking, that are part of the fall schedule.

The efforts to push back the start of the fall season are being made to combat the pandemic which has had more than 15 million confirmed cases worldwide and more than 617,000 deaths, as the United States has accounted for nearly four million of those cases and roughly 144,000 deaths.

In Maine, the numbers as of Tuesday, July 21 have been significantly lower than most states, with 3,723 confirmed cases — including 3,191 recoveries — and 118 deaths.

The Maine Department of Education released on Friday, July 17 guidelines for a return to school that involve different color-coded designations signifying the risk of COVID-19 transmission, with green equating to low risk, yellow medium risk and red high risk. A red designation could mean sports in those areas will not be played.

According to the DOE, the first color-coded map will be released on Friday, July 31.

Schools and leagues are encouraged to develop regional schedules whenever possible to contain the spread of the virus and the fall sports committees will determine the maximum number of countable games for the shortened fall season.

In light of COVID-19, the Completion of Season Rule — which states that any team unable to complete their respective regular season will make that team ineligible for varsity play for two seasons — has been waived for the 2020-21 season.

Schools also will be allowed to adjust their schedules during the season given the fact some schools could be affected by COVID-19, with each fall sports committee being tasked to develop rules modifications in conjunction with National Federation of State High School Associations' recommendations and will determine postseason play for that sport.