Seven county coalition on hold — for now

A fall sports coalition among seven counties in West Central Florida is on hold — for now. 

Athletic directors from Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Manatee, Polk, Osceola and Orange counties were trying to work together to keep their sports calendars aligned, especially with so many cross-county district games on their schedules. They even left open the possibility of opting out of the state series to create their own postseason this year. 

But after meeting virtually the past two weeks, the athletic directors from those counties decided to wait before teaming together to create something on their own.

They wanted to hold off after the Florida High School Athletic Association pushed back the start of fall practices until at least Aug. 24. The delay gives the organization’s board of directors more time to review safety guidelines provided by the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC), as well as ponder three options for starting sports in the fall before an in-person meeting Aug. 14 in Gainesville.

“We were all in agreement that we wanted to wait and see what was decided at the board of directors meeting before doing anything on our own,” Pinellas County athletic director Al Bennett said. “We all want to stay in the state series if that’s possible, and we want to see what that will look like.

“The option of having a coalition is something we want to still have in our back pocket in case we need to go in that direction.”

The plan for area counties is to keep schedules intact as much as possible. For example, two of the options for fall sports have regular season games starting in early-to-mid September. If that happens, the schedules can pick up where those dates fall.

Still, Bennett said the schedules, particularly in football, could be reduced by a game or two depending on the number of positive cases for Covid-19 and how many players have to be quarantined when that happens.   

“As much as we want to keep the schedules the same, this is going to take some flexibility,” Bennett said. “Some teams might not be able to play one week depending on how many players are quarantined. We want to have every option available to get in as many games as possible.”

Pinellas County has had eight positive cases from either an athlete, a coach or a trainer during summer conditioning. Those who tested positive had to be quarantined, as well as anyone who came within six feet for more than a 15-minute duration. 

But there is some hope. 

With the percentage of positive cases dwindling in Pinellas, Bennett decided to ease some restrictions with summer conditioning. 

This past Monday, Pinellas County went into phase three for workouts. School gymnasiums and weight rooms are now open with restrictions. 

  • Weight rooms can have no more than 15 players/coaches per workout, which are limited to 45 minutes. 
  • Gymnasiums can have no more than 20 players/coaches per workout with social distancing required.
  • Locker rooms remained closed. 

Another big addition is allowing one-on-one drills with linemen and skill players, provided they each wear masks.