STEVENS POINT, Wis.-- The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) Board of Control voted Thursday, July 23, to delay the start of the fall sports seasons, including pushing the start date for football, boys soccer and volleyball practices back to Monday, Sept. 7.

The sports of girls golf, girls tennis, girls swimming and diving, and boys and girls cross country, which are considered low-risk for the spread of coronavirus, will be permitted to begin practice with prescribed protocol Monday, Aug. 17, while the earliest practice date for the high-risk sports of football, boys soccer, and boys and girls volleyball is Monday, Sept. 7.

The 8-3 vote to delay the seasons comes as the WIAA deals with how to bring back high school sports amidst the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the cancelation of the boys and girls basketball state tournaments and all of the spring sports seasons in 2020.

The ruling also gives the WIAA the flexibility to allow certain schools that can’t compete this fall to move their seasons to spring 2021.

River Falls activities director Rollie Hall said the ruling gives schools options to do what is best for its student-athletes.

"You can do it in the fall or you can do it in the spring, or you can start in the fall and if its gets shut down within a certain time you can finish it in the spring," Hall noted. "The number one thing here is the kids getting some opportunities and making the best of a situation none of have ever seen before and hopefully will never see again."

WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson said in a statement that the board is committed to maintaining fall interscholastic opportunities for student-athletes.

“Because of the board’s action, while they can’t make any guarantees that things will work out as we plan them, they have given us the opportunity to at least hope and work in that direction,” Anderson said. “We understand this decision will make some happy and others disappointed, but we will do our best to deliver to our membership what they have directed us to do.”

The earliest dates for the first competitions are Aug. 20 for girls golf, Aug. 21 for girls tennis, Aug. 25 for cross country, and girls swimming and diving. The earliest permissible date for the first boys soccer, and boys and girls volleyball contests are Sept. 15, and the first possible football game may be scheduled Wednesday, Sept. 23, if the first practice is conducted on Sept. 7.

The end of the fall sports seasons remained unchanged, but the board indicated the season may or may not culminate with a traditional tournament series. The length and beginning of the tournament series will be determined in the coming days. In addition, the winter and spring season calendars were not altered.

Hall said under the circumstances, giving kids the opportunity to participate is more important that giving out trophies.

"If you can get five games in, that’s better than zero," he said. "And if that means there’s no state championship at the end, so be it. You got to play five games. The focus, at least what I got out of it, is give some options so the kids have opportunities. If that means the traditional WIAA state tournaments don’t happen, so be it."

The WIAA considered a number of season schedule models, including a proposal by a group of administrators in the southwest part of the state to move fall sports to the spring, and spring sports into the summer. Instead the board resolved to maintain fall interscholastic opportunities with a delayed start, as well as offer an alternate opportunity for schools unable to start and administer the traditional fall season.

The Big 8 Conference, which includes Beloit Memorial, Madison East, Madison LaFollette, Madison Memorial, Madison West, Middleton, Sun Prairie and Verona, has already announced it will cancel all fall sports and not name any conference champions.

Hall was optimistic that fall sports could start under the new timeline, but warned that a lot could change in a month.

"I think one thing this does give us is some time," he said. "Now if we can get the people out of the bars, because really that’s what’s happening. We’ve had no kids that have gotten it, that I know of. So it’s going to be the actions of others that is going to decide whether we have sports or not. Because if the numbers are high, we won’t have sports. It doesn’t even have to be us. If the county has high numbers and where we’re high risk, they’re not going to let us play sports."

Before Thursday’s ruling, football practice across the state was scheduled to begin Aug. 4, followed by girls golf Aug. 10, girls tennis and girls swim and dive Aug. 11, and boys soccer, volleyball and cross country Aug. 17.