McGAIR: Changing high school sports season would be perfect double switch

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The Woonsocket and Cumberland football teams, above, have played 56 times on Thanksgiving Day, but that could change this season if football is moved to the spring along with soccer and baseball and softball are played in the fall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

One tactic of Major League Baseball that’s always been appreciated by this scribe is the double switch that only comes into play during the latter innings in National League ballparks. It’s all about avoiding the pitcher’s spot in the batting order, hence there’s a thinking-man’s element that ensures the best possible lineup remains at the manager’s disposal.

Around these parts, we’ve witnessed firsthand the fallout when double switches aren’t executed. In the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 2013 World Series, Red Sox manager John Farrell committed a cardinal sin in St. Louis when reliever Brandon Workman grabbed a bat. Workman struck out on three pitches.

Clearly, Manager John – thank David Price for that reference – was asleep at the switch. Under no circumstances do you allow a pitcher to hit in the ninth inning of a tie ballgame.

Thank heavens that Farrell’s faux pas didn’t come back to bite him completely. The Sox lost Game 3 but wound up vanquishing the Cardinals in six games for the title. Fast forward to 2020 as MLB skippers won’t have to worry about double switches after the designated hitter was green-lighted for usage in both leagues.

Sticking with the double-switch theme, the time has come for the R.I. Interscholastic League to strongly consider a shakeup to the sports lineup for only the 2020-21 school year. Move football and soccer to the spring 2021 ledger and bring baseball and softball under the tent for the fall 2020 season.

The last thing anyone wants to see is another high school season get completely washed away. I’m talking about district administrators, athletic directors, coaches, players, and media. We can’t have “Silent Spring, the Sequel” where fields and courts remain in a state of slumber. People would go absolutely stir crazy. We need to have something.

Fortunately, this plea to swap sports that are traditionally held in the fall for sports that typically unfold during the spring months appears to have teeth. It’s a rock-the-boat concept that could potentially send shockwaves across the interscholastic landscape. In fact, many of the dots are starting to get connected.

At the RIIL level, the Principals’ Committee on Athletics during their June 15 virtual meeting voted unanimously to allow spring sport committees to convene and provide recommendation for the 2020-2021 alignments. In some corners, this particular decision came as a surprise. Since there wasn’t a 2020 spring season, the assumption was that the 2021 season would adhere to the divisional arrangements that were in place for 2019 – the first year of a scheduled two-year realignment. Why bother realigning for one season when everything in theory is already in place?

Late last week, it was shared that the realignment numbers had been crunched in baseball and softball. It was another eyebrow-raising development since we’re talking about two sports that aren’t scheduled to start their respective seasons for another 10 months. Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire, right?

The final piece of evidence as to why holding high school baseball and softball games this coming fall makes the most sense comes from the guidelines laid out by Governor Gina Raimondo. Baseball and softball are considered low-contact sports while football and soccer are close-contact sports.

We’ve reached the point of this long climb out of the coronavirus hole where baseball and softball can once again be part of the sporting culture. On Tuesday night, Pawtucket-based Howard Rogers was scheduled to scrimmage against Upper Deck. Both teams are part of the recently-created, socially-distance-fueled R.I. 19-20 Elite Baseball League that kicks off next week and figures to be monitored closely by those in the high school athletic sector.

Hooray, we’ll soon have actual games to put in the sports section!

Shifting to football and soccer, society probably needs to be in a much better spot in the ongoing war against COVID-19 before both sports (along with a few others) can be part of the discussion. Maybe we’ll have a coveted vaccine by the time this miserable year is to put bed and the calendar flips to 2021 – a vaccine that lends credence to idea of jockeying high-contact sports from one season to another.

Best-case scenario is that the fall 2020 season features baseball and softball along with the traditional fall sports of girls tennis and cross-country. I would like to include golf in the fall mix, but the RIIL has been trying to get on the same page with course superintendents for years. The superintendents of private courses don’t want to set aside prime tee times during the fall months for schoolboys and schoolgirls when they have dues-paying members to answer to. In a nutshell, that’s why golf is a RIIL spring sport.

As for cross-country, here’s a solution to minimize concerns pertaining to social distancing. Have no more than three member schools participate in a dual meet. Stagger the starting times where the boys from School A have from 3-3:30 p.m. to complete the course while the girls from the same school have from 3:30-4 p.m. Let School B have the 4-5 p.m. block and School C the 5-6 p.m. slot.

At least for 2020, the idea of cross-country teams traveling out-of-state for invitationals should be placed on hold. I’m in favor of keeping the class and state meet, yet we might need to think outside-the-box to mitigate contact at the race’s onset.

Moving field hockey and girls volleyball from the fall to the spring might make for tough choices for those who already play girls lacrosse. Ditto for football players who also participate in track & field and lacrosse, yet trying to find the perfect solution in these imperfect times involves multiple dosages of creativity. Right now, the priority should focus on minimizing the risk factor that hangs over certain sports and pray that we’re in a much more forgiving place when next spring rolls around.

If we do have high school sports in the fall, expect to see plenty of weekend activity – maybe even doubleheaders in softball and baseball. Busing is a serious concern, and if more buses are needed to transport students from school to home in an effort to enforce social distancing, a major crimp will be put on staging afternoon games.

If there’s an upside, it’s that every considerable effort will be made to group fall 2020 teams based on geography. Let the regional rivalries take flight!

The clock isn’t approaching triple zeros, but the RIIL would be wise to act prudently sooner rather than later. Some football teams have already launched their summer conditioning program. More are expected to follow suit after the Fourth of July holiday. It would make zero sense to gear up right now for a season that’s being put off until early April.

What does make perfect sense is for the Interscholastic League to engage in a double switch that features all of the trappings of a win-win. Baseball and softball, come on down. The fall months await your presence. Football and soccer … we’ll see you next spring.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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