High school football is officially back.
The Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association voted Friday to accept modifications from its COVID-19 Task Force to allow football games beginning next month. The "Fall 2" season carved out when football was deemed unsafe amid the pandemic this past fall begins on Feb. 22 and runs through April 25.
The modifications mirror those seen in high school basketball and hockey this winter in that there are very few changes to the game itself. The MIAA's football and sports medicine committees felt that with frequent tackling taking place on the gridiron, other proposed changes such as distancing linemen from one another would be moot.
Besides there being no locker room use, the main changes center around social distancing on the sidelines. Football teams can't dress more than 45 plays for a game, injured players won't be allowed on the sidelines, and there is a limit of six coaches. The traditional box where players must stand has been extended to the 10-yard line, huddles will need to be spaced out, and using hand signals is encouraged.
As in the other ongoing high school sports, there will be no handshakes, and masks must be worn at all times.
Timeouts have been extended to two minutes and take place at the 25-yard line. There will also be a water break inserted at the officials' discretion at the midway point of each quarter.
The possibility of spectators needs guidance from the state and will likely be determined by each league and school.
"We've consulted with doctors, coaches, superintendents, athletic directors and game officials," MIAA President Jeff Granatino, Marshfield's superintendent, said. "The norms of our athletics have had to chance to make sure students, coaches and families are safe."
The Board, made up of superintendents and principals from around the state, noted that every athlete playing football must practice for 15 days before taking part in a regular season game. The state's official of environmental affairs specifically prohibits indoor football practice, so inclement weather at the end of February could potentially delay the earliest possible date for games (tentatively the weekend of March 12).
There are also no state tournaments for Fall 2 sports.
Most schools on the North Shore did not hold their volleyball seasons this past fall and will be doing so in the upcoming Fall 2 window. The Board's Friday vote allowed for volleyballs to be cleaned between sets, rather than after every point, and limits game day rosters to 15 players.
Schools that didn't play soccer or field hockey this past fall can also hold their seasons in Fall 2. The state is allowing penalty corners in field hockey (they were banned a few months ago), but the play remains 7-on-7. The only change in soccer is that games can be timed by halves rather than by quarters.
"We're grateful for everyone's work," said Granatino, "and now we're hopeful we'll be able to have a safe, successful Fall 2 season."
The MIAA will begin looking at modifications for the spring season on March 8 and hopes to approve those at the Board of Directors level on March 12.