University Interscholastic League (UIL) rolled out on Tuesday key dates for the start of fall sports, which shows a delayed schedule for larger schools.
Under the schedule released by UIL, football and volleyball practices will begin first with 1A through 4A schools on Aug. 3. Schools with 5A and 6A designations, which encompass nearly the entire Houston area, will start practices on Sept. 7, more than a month later.
The first day of match ups are also staggered in these sports depending on conference. Football in 1A through 4A begins Aug. 27. Sept. 24 is being tabbed as the sport's start date for 5A and 6A conferences.
Games can be played five days apart, if necessary to complete schedules, UIL said.
"Moving fall sports like football to the Spring is still an option based on COVID, but it's a last resort," said UIL Deputy Director Dr. Jamey Harrison. "UIL knows all schools will not complete schedules and play all games. They will work with schools on scheduling."
This will be vital when it's time to crown district champions and figure out who makes the playoffs.
Volleyball season gets underway Aug. 10 in 1A through 4A, while 5A and 6A schools begin Sept. 14.
Similarly, the start dates for tennis and cross country are being staggered depending on conference designations. Both sports begin Aug. 17 in 1A through 4A, while 5A and 6A tennis and cross country will begin on Sept. 7.
Of course, the delayed start dates come with COVID-19 safety in mind.
"These adjustments reflect the public health situation at this time and the varying numbers of COVID-19 cases across different geographic areas of the state," UIL stated. "This plan provides a delay for schools in highly-populated metro areas, primarily conferences 5A-6A, given the challenges with COVID-19 those communities are facing, while providing schools in other areas, primarily 1A-4A, an opportunity to start seasons on schedule."
The governing body also rolled out its virus risk mitigation guidelines for sports, which include "guidance around face coverings, general operations and protocol for individuals confirmed or exposed to COVID-19."
"Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools," said UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt. "While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread."
As for fans, spectators can attend games and contests with a 50 percent venue capacity limitation, but that can be less based on local restrictions, according to Harrison. Spectators will be required to wear face coverings unless they have a medical condition or disability preventing this or they are eating or drinking, swimming or congregating in an area where 6-foot social distancing is practiced.
When asked about practice bans, Harrison said, "It's not the UIL's place to reach out to counties regarding practice bans, but the UIL is willing to help schools attempt to find ways to start practices."
Harrison also said there is no site yet for state championship games, but the UIL is willing to consider every site in the state.
MORE ON TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS:
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Community Impact Newspaper contributed to this report.