No heading in soccer? Mass. schools modify the rules for fall sports during a pandemic

By MAC CERULLO | The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass. | Published: August 31, 2020

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NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association released its safety guidelines for the upcoming fall season on Friday, laying out a blueprint for how schools can safely hold sports this fall while including sport-specific modifications to limit potential exposure during competition.

The general guidelines that apply to all sports largely focus on social distancing and limiting potential contact between athletes and coaches. Among the highlights, athletes should work out in small pods of 5-10, with the same groups sticking together throughout the season. Locker rooms should be limited to 50% capacity, and no equipment, water bottles or other belongings should be shared. Athletes will be encouraged to keep their own bottles of hand sanitizer, as well as their own gym bag to keep equipment, electronics and other personal belongings.

Pre-game and post-game meetings and ceremonies will be adjusted to include as few people as possible, and no handshakes or similar contact will be allowed. In general, athletes, coaches and officials will be required to wear masks, though masks won’t be required during competition under certain circumstances.

The complete list of modifications can be found on the MIAA Covid-19 Task Force webpage.

Soccer: Significant changes

Soccer will look radically different this fall if schools opt to play, as the modifications have wide ranging effects that could completely reshape how the game is played.

No heading, slide tackling or deliberate body contact will be allowed, and masks will be required for all athletes during play. Athletes will have the option to take a “mask break” if they are more than 10 feet away from anyone else, but the default expectation will be that masks should be on.

Instead of playing two halves, teams will play four quarters with two-minute breaks between quarters and a 10-minute halftime. The ball will be wiped down after every quarter, and goalies won’t be allowed to spit on their gloves. There will also be no timeouts and substitutes must remain socially distant while checking in near midfield.

For restarts, indirect kicks will be the primary method of resuming play, and all indirect kicks will be played on the ground. Instead of throw-ins, teams will take an indirect kick from the sideline, and corner kicks will also be taken as indirect kicks. Goal kicks and goalie punts or throws can be played in the air, but the ball cannot travel through the air past midfield or the other team will be awarded an indirect kick from midfield. Penalty kicks will use penalty shootout rules, where the ball will be dead if the goalie makes a save or the ball bounces off the post and no rebounds will be allowed. There will also be no defensive walls permitted on free kicks.

The referees will have wide discretion to enforce the modifications and can issue yellow or red cards to anyone they feel is in violation. That includes teams that aren’t social distancing on the sidelines, players who make deliberate contact or slide tackle others, those who don’t wear their masks and anyone who approaches the ref to argue a call.

Field hockey: 7 on 7

Field hockey will also see significant changes, with teams playing seven on seven instead of the usual 11 on 11 and with no penalty corners on fouls close to the net. Instead of penalty corners, teams will take 25-yard free hits, and on all free hits players must be at least five yards away from the player taking the hit.

There will also be no “bullies” on re-starts, with teams alternating possessions, and no ball girls or boys will be allowed, with teams instead placing four balls behind each goal and on opposite sidelines for easy access. There will be no stick inspections prior to the game and officials should use electronic whistles or air horns.

Masks will be required during competition, as will the standard mouth guards and goggles.

Cross country: Staggered starts

Though cross country runners won’t see major changes during competition, the administration of races themselves will be quite different this fall. The biggest change is that mass starts won’t be allowed, and instead staggered starts with a smaller number of athletes per wave will be used to allow runners to stay spaced out at the start of the race.

In addition, only dual meets will be permitted, and the MIAA is recommending that wider courses be used so that runners can stay spaced out even during close races. Course previews will be done virtually with no walking the course prior to the race, and at the finish line race organizers must implement a non-transmittal way of tracking finishers, meaning no handing out numbered popsicle sticks or pieces of paper like usual.

Runners will not be required to wear masks during the race, but they must wear them to the starting line and be prepared to put it back on as soon as possible after finishing.

Volleyball: Frequent sanitization

In addition to wearing masks throughout the match, the biggest change to volleyball will be that the ball must be sanitized after every rally. Teams will also remain on the same side of the net for the entire match, and no team huddles, handshakes or physical contact between players will be allowed. In order to reduce intermittent contact with opponents, front row players will also be restricted from traditionally attacking the ball while the ball is above or in front of the 3-foot line.

Golf: Relatively unchanged

Due to the social distancing inherent in golf, athletes won’t experience too much change during play this season. Golfers will be required to wear masks at the course but not during competition unless they need to be within six feet of each other. Most of the other modifications relate to social distancing, including closing the clubhouses except for the bathrooms and eliminating the need for handouts besides scorecards.


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