OHSAA releases ‘Return to Play’ guidelines

Guidelines include sport specific recommendations

Staff Report

COLUMBUS — The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has presented the OHSAA with a myriad of challenges.

The Executive Director’s Office, with support from its Board of Directors and feedback from the Ohio Joint Advisory Committee on Sports Medicine, the National Federation of State High School Associations and the Ohio Department of Health along with support from the Ohio Lt. Governor’s Office, offer a Return to Play document as recommendations on how member schools can consider approaching the many components of “opening up” sports with the objective of commencing the fall sports seasons on August 1, 2020.

The OHSAA fully intends to support its member schools and the student-athletes who desire to compete in interscholastic athletics and will continue to assess all areas as more information becomes available.

OHSAA encourage member schools to especially pay attention to the early pages of the document closely since they indicate that many of the recommendations can ONLY be utilized if mandates from the Ohio Department of Health Director’s Order are modified.

The OHSAA understands that the physical and mental benefits of participation in education-based interscholastic athletics are numerous and are heightened even more during this pandemic. Students who participate learn life lessons in an environment that cannot be duplicated.

Academic achievement, the development of leadership and social skills as well as the mental health benefits are known to be greatly enhanced in students who participate in our programs compared to those who do not.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has already resulted in thousands of our students missing out on these life-shaping educational experiences over the past several months, and we certainly hope we can return to some type of normalcy as it relates to interscholastic athletics soon.

With that being said, in order for interscholastic athletics to occur, we all need to follow the protocols that have been put in place.

The recommendations within the Return to Play document for the resumption of varsity, non-varsity and 7th-8th grade interscholastic athletic seasons and participation opportunities have been made with the health, safety and well-being of all student-athletes in mind.

The risk of coronavirus transmission will still be present to some degree as interscholastic athletics activities begin in August and will continue until there is a widely available vaccine or therapeutic care, possibly through the 2020-21 school year.

While the science about COVID-19 is evolving, it will be important to remain vigilant and nimble to respond to new developments. Students and their families, along with school personnel, must recognize these risks and implement best practices to reasonably mitigate these risks.

Participation in school activities is voluntary and every individual will need to evaluate the risk versus the benefits of athletics participation. Those immunocompromised students and staff, or those who live with family members with elevated health concerns, should evaluate associated risks of participation and may choose not to participate.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, and also may be produced when yelling, cheering, singing and spitting.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Spread is more likely when people are in close contact with one another (within about six feet).

Risk mitigation strategies should be aimed at reducing the likelihood of a person being exposed to respiratory droplets coming from another person. Every school is different, and every athletics activity is different. Certain mitigation strategies may be feasible in one school or for one activity, but not another.

Schools should attempt to significantly mitigate exposures by:

• Maintaining physical distancing while not on the field or court of play;

• Requiring face coverings while not on the field or court of play;

• Reducing or greatly eliminating unnecessary travel;

• Reducing or eliminating sharing of common equipment, and

• Reducing or eliminating contact frequency with student-athletes from schools and non-interscholastic programs outside of each school’s league/conference or normal competition sphere.

As another component to the Return to Play Recommendations document, the OHSAA is including an educational tool for student-athletes, an acknowledgement and pledge form that you may strongly consider utilizing.

As a supplement to the Return to Play document, the OHSAA is also providing sport specific recommendations and/or considerations that its sport management team has developed in conjunction with the National Federation of State High School Associations or a similar governing body.

Links to these documents will also be sent to head coaches. Note that a rule modification is a modification to a playing rule from the governing body of the sport and is a requirement to adhere to and follow. A recommendation is a consideration to the sport and allows for optional guidelines. Recommendations are not required but are permitted.

2020-21 Football Recommendations and Modifications

Below are the NFHS Rule modifications for the 2020 football season as well as some OHSAA procedural changes. These are followed by some Recommendations.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list and there might be additional steps in each school, city, and state to help prevent the spread of virus. Even when taking all precautions, there will still be risk of transmitting illnesses. Everyone should stay vigilant about the health of members of their teams. Lastly, the situation with Covid-19 is rapidly changing. These considerations may quickly become outdated. Please keep up with the latest from the CDC and other health officials in your area.

NFHS Football Rules

Team Box Rule (Rule 1-2-3g)

▪ The team box will be extended on both sides of the field to the 10-yard lines (for players only) in order for more social distancing space for the teams.

▪ Maintain social distancing of 6 feet at all times while in the team box.

▪ Do not share uniforms, towels and other apparel and equipment.

BALL (Rule 1-3-2)

▪ The ball should be cleaned and sanitized throughout the contest as recommended by the ball manufacturer.

▪ The ball holders should maintain social distancing of 6 feet at all times during the contest.

▪ The officials will have limited contact with the ball. The players of the offensive team will handle the ball and take it with them to the huddle. The Umpire will place a bean bag at the spot where the ball will be snapped.

FACE MASKS {Rules 1-5-1a, 1-5-3c(4)}

▪ Cloth face coverings are permissible.

▪ Plastic shields covering the entire face (unless integrated into the face mask and attached to the helmet and clear without the presence of any tint) shall not be allowed during the contest.


▪ **Still being determined at this time on how to best handle the tooth and mouth protector during the contest. The NFHS SMAC will update the membership as soon as guidance is developed for all

sports that require a tooth and mouth protector.

GLOVES (Rule 1-5-2b)

▪ Gloves are permissible but still must comply with Rule 1-5-2b by meeting either the NOCSAE Standard or the SFIA Specification.


▪ Each state association may adopt other playing/administrative rules for football for the 2020 season that would decrease exposure to respiratory droplets and COVID-19.


▪ A single charged time-out may be extended to a maximum of two minutes in length.

▪ The authorized conference for the charged time-out should take place at the bottom of the numbers. Players will social distance during timeouts.

▪ Each game official and player should have their own beverage container brought out to them on the field.


▪ For the coin toss, limit attendees to the referee, umpire and one designated representative from each team.

▪ Coin toss will take place in the center of the field with designated individuals maintaining social distancing of 6 feet.

▪ No handshakes prior to and following the coin toss.

▪ Maintain social distancing of 6 feet while performing the pregame meeting between officials and coaches.

▪ For the overtime procedure, please use the same procedure as used at the start of the contest for the coin toss.



▪ The intermission may be extended to a maximum of two minutes between the first and second and the third and fourth periods and following a try, successful field goal or safety, and prior to the succeeding free kick.


▪ It is recommended that the halftime be shortened to the NFHS minimum of 10 minutes and that teams social distance outside of the locker rooms.


▪ Suspend pregame protocol of shaking hands during introductions.

▪ Suspend postgame protocol of shaking hands.


▪ Before, during and after the contest, players, coaches, game officials, team personnel and game administration officials should wash and sanitize their hands as often as possible.

▪ Maintain social distancing of 6 feet at all times while on the sidelines and on the field of play when possible.

▪ Everyone should have their own beverage container that is not shared.

▪ Cloth face coverings are permissible for all coaches and team staff and for all game administration officials. THIS IS STRONGLY RECOMMENDED!

▪ Gloves are permissible for all coaches and team staff and for all game administration officials.

▪ Try and limit the number of non-essential personnel who are on the field level throughout the contest.

▪ If available, dressing facilities for game officials and teams should be large enough for them to use social-distancing protocols and should be properly cleaned and sanitized prior to their arrival.