By TOM WILLIAMS
One of the things being considered to get high school athletes back in the game is a switch of baseball and football seasons, since football is considered a high-risk sport. The idea is outlined in a column by award-winning sports writer Mike McGarry in the Press of Atlantic City. You can read it here.
Here are the opinions of many from the South Jersey sports community. And they vary.
Brent Bean, Atlantic City baseball coach: “I would like the change.”
Tony Blum, veteran sports broadcaster: “If it’s just for this year that would mean football would be played in the spring and again in the fall. Weather wise it would be better as baseball would start in the warm weather and it would be good football weather in the spring. Plus, with college football over, coaches could attend some games and the high schools would have football all to themselves.”
Andrew Bristol, Ocean City baseball coach: “I don’t like it. Kids will have a lot of innings if they pitch all summer. What about lacrosse kids who play football? Days get shorter in fall. Not every team has lights. That said, I’m for anything that gets both sports able to play.”
Frank Campo, retired athletics director: “There are bigger issue about switching baseball to the fall and football to the spring. The high-risk sports for social distancing are football, wrestling and boys’ lacrosse. If football is moved to spring, the other determined high-risk sports should follow. This will cause many athletes to prioritize one sport over the other since you can only participate in one contact sport per season. This will be a very difficult decision to make for a high school athlete.”
Bryan Carmichael, Egg Harbor Township baseball coach: “I don’t really have an opinion about whether I favor switching seasons. However, it doesn’t seem to make much sense if only New Jersey was to do it.”
Bob Coffey, retired Hall of Fame Mainland football coach: “Brilliant. But just for one year. Adjust all schedules so that everyone contributes. State championships might have to take a backseat this year.”
Brian Cunniff, award-winning journalist at Coast Sports Today and Coastal Broadcasting: “What about the baseball players who play soccer, or run cross country? What about the football players who play lacrosse, or participate in track and field? What about the football coaches who also coach track or lacrosse? The baseball coaches who also coach soccer or cross country? Moving football to the spring also presents many others issues. For starters, how would practice work? Normally, most football coaches are using six weeks or more to prepare for a season, and that’s during the summer months when two-a-days and/or three-hour practices can be held. That’s not happening while school is in session in March. If the preseason is limited to three weeks, what about the basketball players whose teams are going deep in the state playoffs and might not finish the season until mid-March? A move to spring football also presents a problem for the blue-chip recruit who might not want to risk injury or may be trying to enroll early at his college. That kid may elect not to play. Spring football also essentially creates a nine-month football season, assuming football is moved back to its traditional place in the fall the following scholastic year. You’d have a spring season running from March through mid to late June, followed by preseason workouts for the following season beginning in July. Baseball in the fall is intriguing because the weather is usually better than it is in the spring. But, as the season moves along, do you want to be playing your most important games of the season in November? How do you account for the loss of daylight as the fall season progresses? Would weekday games have to begin at 2 or 3 p.m., leading to early dismissals? Would enough umpires be available for 2 or 3 p.m. starts? How would college recruiting work for both sports if the seasons were flipped? Looking at the big picture, with respect to the pandemic, who has decided that it’s safe to play baseball in the fall but not football? Has a study been done? Are there respected healthcare professionals willing to stand behind that assumption in the absence of such a study and formally advise school districts and the NJSIAA in the matter? Sure, football by its nature invites more player-to-player contact. But what about a baseball player sliding into a base on a close play? What about social-distancing measures between a batter and a catcher? A catcher and an umpire? A first baseman and the runner who just reached base? How will players be spaced in the dugouts? School districts and the NJSIAA are not going to want to be in the business of deciding which sports might be safer to play in the fall than others. What would the reaction be if, should baseball be moved to the fall, five baseball players from the same team contract COVID-19? There are larger issues at play here no matter what sports are played in the fall. If schools aren’t in session, can sports even be played? Will athletic department budgets allow for the purchase of countless needed PPE? How will busing to away games work? Will you need two or three buses to transport a program to an away game? There are many, many issues that will need to be worked out before thinking about playing any sport. Flipping the football and baseball seasons doesn’t come close to addressing any of them.
Dr. Fred Dalzell, orthopedic surgeon and former three-sport athlete: “Weather wise for South Jersey it would make perfect sense. We have cold springs and warm falls. It would just be tough to buck the enthusiasm of the rest of the country. With the Phillies finishing spring training. it might be tough getting fired up for a Friday night game. At the same time, with Eagles and college football in full swing, swinging a bat might not be as much fun or create the same enthusiasm. It might also effect football players who run track.”
Mike Gill, award-winning host on 97.3-ESPN and youth baseball coach: “As a baseball coach I like the weather in the fall better than the spring, so I like it the idea of playing baseball in the fall. I think its something down the line, that might be neat to see a fall baseball league (without playoffs, just league games) in high school, and the spring baseball league in baseball with how much more advanced baseball has become.
Roy Hallenbeck, former Millville baseball coach: “I’m responding to this as a longtime former baseball coach (21 years) and also as a parent of an incoming senior, two-sport athlete. I feel terrible for all of the seniors who just lost out on their final year. I feel we should be doing anything possible to insure that doesn’t happen again. If switching the seasons makes resuming both sports feasible and safe, then I’m all for it. There will always be risk. If we wait until there is zero risk then nothing will ever happen, ever again. Because we all know that zero risk (of anything) is an impossibility and unrealistic. Every aspect of our lives involves some form of risk. So it comes down to mitigating that risk as best as possible, then allowing parents and athletes to decide what level of risk they are comfortable taking on.”
Yogi Hiltner, former multi-sport coach and athlete: “It’s perfect, but if it happens it won’t be normal. You lead up to each season because of the national build up. However, spring up here is too cold for baseball and perfect for football. And fall is too hot for the start of football and perfect for baseball. I’ve thought this for 30 years.”
Thomas Kelly, former Atlantic City football coach: “I think it would be hard to do considering how many football players participate in track and field. It might be easier to delay football until things are better and that way you are only disrupting one season instead of two or three.”
Bill Kern, Mainland baseball coach: “Its an interesting concept. I think I would have to see more details. I would prefer to see baseball stay in the spring but not at the expense of seeing kids miss the opportunity to compete.”
Dave Klemic, outstanding football player, now a broadcaster and trainer: “Regarding this year, I think there will be enough time for the football teams to gather together and practice before the season. I understand why the thought, though. I understand that crowds are bigger, games are more physical and more germs can be passed at these games than baseball, which have much smaller crowds and much less physical touch happening. I’m slightly selfish in thinking about the kids that are going to sign to colleges and worry about them not being able to get seen by the college coaches and missing out on that opportunity. Although as I write this it seems to have a strong argument for fall baseball and spring football. I’m probably not the greatest person to ask because I do not think that this virus is or will be the end of the world. But I think for the football players first and naturally I always will.”
John Leon, sports broadcaster and sports information officer at Stockton University: “This is a non-starter for me. If you switch the seasons, what then becomes of spring sports, such as track, lacrosse (the fastest growing sport, by far) and crew? Many football players also compete in those sports and many will receive more than a fair amount of scholarships in those sports than they would in football. Yes, the weather would possibly be more advantageous but at what cost to the other sports? How many players would be lost in all of the spring sports? If a student knows he is better in crew, lacrosse or track and has a better shot at a scholarship, why would he play football? And vice versa. Now you’re asking a student to make a serious choice regarding their future. Baseball in the fall. Again, assuming the weather would be more advantageous, what would the fallout be? How many pitchers would be burned out, coming off a summer of AAU where there is no rest? I admit that most of the players play as much as possible (to their detriment) but the body still needs the break. If you’re going to change those two sports then adjustments have to be made for the others.”
Steve Parker, sports broadcaster and former multiple-sport coach and athlete: “I think it is excellent idea for a lot of reasons. If we’ll need to be social distancing in the fall, it would be a lot easier with baseball than with football. The last few years I think the temperatures have been more conducive for baseball in the fall and football in the spring anyway. It could affect recruiting but they could work that out. I’d try it and if it worked out maybe make it permanent.”
Bud Rinck, veteran sports broadcaster and retired baseball coach: “About switching seasons – you hear talk about the kids who play football and lacrosse or soccer and baseball but nobody says it would allow soccer kids to play football or lacrosse kids to play baseball. It works both ways. That being said, I like it because of the weather except championship games in baseball. But if we have a recurrence of virus in the fall baseball, could miss another season.”
Paul Sacco, St. Joseph football coach: “I don’t want to see happen to any more kids what happened to the spring sports athletes this year. That would have devastated me when I was in high school. I do have some mixed feelings. Would this become the norm? Or would we play in the spring, take a month off and then get ready for another football season in the fall? I want to see the kids play and I want to get out there and coach. But we have to do it right and do it safely. There are other issues. Are we going to switch the football after every snap, after every play, and wipe it down? That will be a challenge in practice but imagine how it could slow down games. We’ll all do our best to adjust to whatever they decide. We just don’t want any more kids to be disappointed like the spring athletes were this year.”
Harry Sachs, sports broadcaster and former coach: “Until we can have some type of control over this virus I think doing anything is a risk. I can’t comment on the switch until there are specifics on the virus and how we would regulate it. Personally, I think that it would be less risky to have baseball in the fall since there is much less personal contact in baseball. But it would be a mess for colleges to evaluate athletes unless it was nationwide.”
Jim Schafer, sports broadcaster and former three-sport coach: “It makes sense to me even if it is only for this year.”
Kevin Smith, Ocean City football coach: “I’m all for whatever allows us to have a season. I don’t want it to be at the expense of anyone else’s season and I want it to happen safely. If switching fall and spring sports will allow that, I’m OK with it. That said, there are lots of complications with that scenario. You would have baseball in the fall and then a 16-month break before the next baseball season. And you’d have football in the spring followed by another football season almost immediately in the fall. That’s not ideal, to say the least. I would favor keeping the seasons as they are and playing a modified football season if necessary over switching. I think switching should only be considered as a last resort. More than anything, we need to let things play out these next two months and see what develops before rushing a decision.”
Tony Surace, retired coach and athletics director: “I think it has merit. The fall will be better weather for baseball. On first glance I like it and think it could work. There could be issues with recruiting but I think colleges can adjust.”
Dennis Thomas, Millville football coach: “It will be a major adjustment. College recruiting, early enrollment, late birthdays will all play a factor. Safety is key, our country had a nonchalant approach in the beginning, we must not have a premature response or we will create another bad situation.”
Tim Watson, retired Cedar Creek football coach: “I think it’s an intriguing idea and worth exploring, for sure. The more prepared we are with ideas and Plan B’s the better. The big drawback I see from a football perspective is that you would essentially have back to back seasons if you played football the following fall. The short turn around would put a lot on coaches and players from a physical standpoint and a time commitment perspective. It seems like there is going to be big adjustments regardless of which direction things go. I think it’s best for those in charge to be open-minded and creative. I also think it’s critical for decision makers to get head coaches involved with the plan as well. To not have coaches’ input would be nonsense.”
Dave Weinberg, award-winning sportswriter now writing at 973espn.com: “I think it’s a terrible idea for several reasons and I’m honestly not understanding the purpose behind it. It places undo pressure on two-sport athletes. Moving football to the spring means choosing between football and track/lacrosse. Holding baseball in the fall means those student-athletes won’t be able to play soccer. On a similar note, the idea of starting football season on March 1 would be a very tough transition for those players participating in basketball, wrestling and swimming. Those seasons would still be going on, and asking them to immediately put on a helmet and shoulder pads is risky. Holding football in the spring of 2021 and again in the fall means virtually no time to recover. They would likely have about a month before starting training again. That’s not enough time for their bodies to rest from what is an extremely physical sport. Moving baseball to the fall means championship games would be played in November/December, when the temperature is often below 40 degrees. That’s OK for football, but not so much for baseball. Finally, it means eliminating Thanksgiving rivalries, though ACHS coach Brent Bean suggested Atlantic City-Holy Spirit would play baseball on Thanksgiving Day.”
Some of the best minds in area sports with lots of different opinions. Just two things seem to flow through most of their opinions – lets not force any more scholar-athletes to miss an entire season and make sure everybody is as safe as possible.