The Maine Principals’ Association, which had planned to make a decision regarding the status of high school-sponsored fall sports on Tuesday, Aug. 18, instead announced that determination has been delayed.

According to a story by Mike Lowe of the Portland Press Herald, the point of contention for returning to school-sponsored sports during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is the different set of guidelines for return to play from the Department of Education and the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Both are state-run agencies.

MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said it would be difficult to offer a fall season, which includes football, soccer, golf, cross country, field hockey and volleyball, among other club sports, under the DOE’s guidelines, which emphasizes the strict wearing of face masks and social distancing, but that the MPA could offer sports by following the community sports guidelines released in May by the DECD.

Travis Lee, sports director at WMTW in Portland, quoted Burnham as saying we “could very well have a fall season if the DOE guidelines and the community sports guidelines could come closer together.”

Burnham also was quoted as stating some, but not all sports, could still be offered under current DOE guidelines, which are more stringent than the community sports guidelines.

Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released suggested guidelines for physical education classes that students remain 14 feet apart outdoors without masks and six feet apart with masks, while students also must remain six feet apart for indoor athletic activities.

Other than golf, close proximity of student-athletes in other athletic competition is a foregone conclusion for all other fall sports.

Currently, high school teams are in Phase 3 of the MPA’s four-phase plan to allow high school sports to return. Phase 4 is scheduled to begin on Monday, Aug. 24.

Fall tryouts and practices are slated to begin on Tuesday, Sept. 8, with the first countable athletic contests to begin on Friday, Sept. 18.

The MPA, which governs member schools' varsity athletic protocols, guidelines and postseason tournaments, announced on July 21 it plans to shorten the fall sports season, with teams competing in fewer games/events than is typical.

Burnham was quoted in Lowe’s story as saying. “If the recommendation from the governor and CDC is that we follow closer to the community guidelines, then we feel that we can start putting that framework [for the fall sports season] together.”

The understanding is a final determination on the fate of fall sports will be made next week.

The MPA canceled the spring high school sports season at the onset of the pandemic.