TRAVERSE CITY — The winter sports season was cut short during the playoffs last March, leaving hundreds of basketball teams without a conclusion to their seasons.
Teams across the state have been in shutdown since Nov. 15 and have already lost at least a month of practice and competition to the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.
Administrators and coaches are doing everything they can to minimize the damage done to the 2021 basketball season. Schools have already redesigned schedules and practice times to accommodate protocols but are unsure of what will come from the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Representative Council meeting that was postponed on Tuesday.
Mancelona athletic director Ben Tarbutton has done most of the shuffling for the Ski Valley Conference, and has been preparing his colleagues for multiple outcomes.
“I’m an optimist and told our coaches that the best case scenario is that we are going to be allowed to start practice on Dec. 21,” Tarbutton said. “We could also start practice but have the MHSAA delay the start of the season until, say, Jan. 11 or we are right back where we are now and don’t get to do anything till after Jan. 4.“
The girls basketball season was set to start one week earlier than the boys but many teams never got the chance to meet in person. Traverse City West never even got the shot to hold tryouts for this season according to boys head coach Sanders Frye.
The Ski Valley Conference reverted to having boys and girls on different nights so COVID couldn’t hit both teams from one exposure. Originally, the league wanted to go with doubleheaders for the first time this this season, with varsity and junior varsity on different days.
Johannesburg-Lewiston athletic director Joe Smokevitch said after the league’s schedule changes by Tarbutton, he only had to find referees for two dates and was able to secure those easily.
Tarbutton said the SVC managed to work out a full 16-game conference schedule for its nine member schools, with some schools like Mancelona still getting a chance to play a couple of non-conference games.
Schools will be cramming games in after losing a solid chunk of 2020. The MHSAA extended the fifth quarter rule to basketball as well, meaning a JV player can play time on both the JV and varsity teams as long as they only appear in five quarters.
It isn’t really a lack of players that coaches and directors are worried about, but overworking an already limited officials pool.
“I’m concerned with so many games crammed into January and February that we’ll be able to find enough referees for both genders,” Glen Lake athletic director Mark Mattson said.
The Northwest Conference is meeting this week to decide what to do about scheduling.
The Big North is likewise in a holding pattern, waiting to see what playing guidelines come from the state or MHSAA before making changes. Frye said that he would like to start practice as soon as possible, hoping for some time with his team before the new year strikes. However, if the season is postponed further, Frye said he would not want to just cram games where ever they fit.
“I’ve seen coaches who are ready to try and squeeze as many games as possible, even if that meant five in a week,” Frye said. “My thought is to try and get everybody healthy and make sure we are not rushing into gameplay and risk injury just to get a game in.“
The Titans eliminated nearly all of their downstate opponents this season, keeping the schedule more localized with hopes that will allow them a better chance to get those games in. Frye said his understanding is that any missed conference games will be rescheduled, and non-conference games will take a back seat.
“Once we know what is going on, we can put out foot on the gas,” Cadillac athletic director Fred Bryant said. “We had to make sure our conference is taken care of, first and foremost.”