TRAVERSE CITY — The fall sports season has been marred by the coronavirus pandemic in countless ways and postseason tournaments in many sports are no exception.
Four divisions of cross country regional finals were moved from Benzie Central to Buckley Saturday because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the Benzie campus. Several district and regional sites for volleyball remained unfilled until a few weeks ago because of pause by host communities. The site for the football state finals remain unclear and the Michigan High School Athletic Association is prolonging that decision until the Dec. 4 finals draw closer.
Buckley and athletic director Heather Cade, in particular, have taken on numerous last-minute changes and stepped up to host events when others couldn’t.
“We don’t mind hosting things and it is a different kind of year,” Cade said. “I think we have great facilities with a standalone gym and I think a lot of schools would step up where they need to.”
Cade found out Wednesday that over 50 schools from four divisions needed a new course to run for the regional finals Saturday and willfully accepted after doing the same already several times this season.
At the beginning of October Cade noticed there wasn’t any communication from her volleyball district host and contacted the MHSAA. They came back with a request. Host volleyball districts on top of the regional round already scheduled. Cade obliged immediately.
“I think everybody knows that especially this year we are all trying to pull together to make this happen,” MHSAA Media Coordinator Geoff Kimmerly said. “People are taking a little bit more risk, but at the same time they’re believing in what we’re doing and we’re really appreciative that they’re continuing to do these things for us.”
Outside the box thinking and practice from the regular season has made postseason tournaments possible with things like electronic ticketing. Buckley will be using gofan.com to allocate tickets prior to its playoff events.
Others schools like Gaylord made the decision months ago to dissolve their commitments to hosting postseason events because of coronavirus concerns. Gaylord was scheduled to be a neutral-site host for volleyball regionals and often hosts a game in the football playoffs in the fall.
“We made that decision a couple months ago and determined this year we were going to step away,” Gaylord athletic director Christian Wilson said. “We didn’t know if we would be able to do what we need to. We’ve got a custodial staff that’s greatly reduced and we didn’t feel comfortable being able to hold those.”
Kimmerly said finding new host sites throughout the state was not an issue that was ever brought up during meetings and schools had no problem filling the voids.
“We heard loud and clear from athletes all over the state that it was really heartbreaking and that is something you never want to hear,” Kimmerly said. “We’ve worked under the premise that if we can provide that opportunity safely we’re going to do so and it’s worked out pretty well.”
Football semifinals are normally held at neutral sites across the state, but Kimmerly said that will not be happening in most cases this season. A neutral site will only be in play if competing schools are more than 200 miles apart because finding neutral sites on Thanksgiving weekend will be extremely difficult.
For those who are hosting playoff games and tournaments, another change may have affected their decisions. The MHSAA will be keeping 100% of ticket sales from all postseason events instead of splitting it with the host school.
Schools normally take half of the money generated from the gates and are paid fees for hosting the event. The MHSAA will still cover referees and allow for schools to sell parking and concessions, if it can be done safely.
“It’s going to be a hit for all of us, but we are finding a way to make these things things happen safely for our student-athletes,” Glen Lake athletic director Mark Mattson said. “It’s always been more important about providing for them than a few dollars and cents.”
The MHSAA’s main revenue stream is ticket sales in postseason tournaments as it lets member schools keep gate proceeds during the regular season. The MHSAA was the first state association not to charge membership fees and does not require schools to pay to enter postseason tournaments like many other states.
“It’s obviously not our preference and we have shared revenues with our schools over the entire 90-year history of our organization,” Kimmerly said. “But we also haven’t brought in any revenue in the last seven months.”
Schools have taken a hit as well with reduced admissions and capacity limits put in place this season. Many schools are just starting to allow more fans and student sections back into the fold.
Mattson said a shortened football season cut back on expenses greatly for that sport, but others still have trouble not operating in the red. Schools and the MHSAA have worked together to continue to provide an opportunity for fall sports to complete the 2020 season, by whatever means necessary.
“They have taken a bit of a hit and we need that organization to be supportive, strong and financially strong for us,” Mattson said. “Everybody will step up where they can in the midst of the pandemic.”