Rule changes will be a point of emphasis during the pre-season.
Rob Pearl predicted that it will be a “very interesting” season.
That’s putting it mildly.
Everyone associated with high school soccer in Massachusetts knows that a strange new day is about to dawn.
Boxed in by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the MIAA Board of Directors last month approved a “four-season” plan for the 2020-21 school year that: shortens the three traditional seasons (Fall, Winter, Spring); moves football, fall cheer and unified basketball to the new carved-out Fall II section (Feb. 22-April 25); and gives schools/leagues the flexibility to switch other sports to that window if they desire.
Sports that remain in the traditional Fall window had to be modified for a COVID-19 reality. Soccer seemed to be hit hardest, and during Tuesday’s virtual MIAA soccer committee meeting, Pearl, the MIAA’s assistant director and committee liaison, ran through some of most notable rules modifications:
– Heading the ball is not permitted
– Intentional physical contact between players (slide tackling, shoulder-to-shoulder tackling, etc.) is not permitted
– Incidental contact on attempted toe-poke tackles may be permitted at the discretion of the referee
– All throw-ins are now kick-ins with ball to be played on the ground, not in the air
– Corner kicks must be played on the ground, too
– Goalkeeper’s kicks/throws must not cross the midfield stripe in the air
– Games are played with quarters not halves
– Social distancing must be observed on defensive walls (players must be 10 yards from the ball and must stay six feet away from all other players, even teammates)
– Face coverings must be worn at all times unless the player is isolated from everyone else
– Re-starts may not happen until the referee engages his/her electronic whistle (no more blowing into old-school ones); the referee also must wait to make sure everyone has their face covering in place before resuming play
– Players may not argue calls with officials; if they do they will be issued either a yellow card (for advancing toward an official to argue) or a straight red card (for coming within six feet of an official to argue)
– The postgame handshake line will be replaced by a postgame nod/wave line with players remaining at least six feet apart
All of those changes were crafted by the MIAA soccer committee to bring the sport into compliance with guidelines set out by two state agencies — the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). They were vetted by the MIAA Sports Medicine Committee, which included a pair of epidemiologists who worked with both the EEA and DESE.
The resulting seven-page document can be found on the MIAA web site. Be warned, it goes into excruciating detail — there are seven bullet points on gym bag protocols, for example.
With tryouts kicking off at the end of this week and regular-season play on the horizon, the new-look sport is ready for its debut.
“We know that these are significant changes in the game,” said Marshfield High Principal Bob Keuther, who was elected the MIAA soccer committee chairperson on Tuesday. (Danny Erickson, the Canton High athletic director/boys soccer coach, was re-elected as vice chair.) “But the eye is really going to be focused on getting our kids on the field and allowing our kids to have an athletic experience this fall.”
As Pearl noted, “The other option was (switching soccer) to Fall II, and playing soccer in February and March probably isn’t ideal in New England, especially in Western Mass. where most schools don’t have turf (fields). So the modifications, even though there are many of them, I want people to know that they were put in place by subcommittee people who all had soccer backgrounds, including myself. It wasn’t just that we were picking things out of the sky. These are people who know the game, who have coached the game, who have played the game. That’s where the modifications came from.
“Not ideal, but let’s see what the kids do this fall and get them on the field next week.”
Keuther encouraged big-picture thinking, saying everyone involved in the sport has to “keep our eye on the ball” and realize that this is a temporary fix for a unique problem.
“There are people who have (asked), ‘Is this going to stay (in place going forward)?'” he said, before shooting down that speculation. “This is a one-year modification. That’s what we agreed to. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to go back to the game we know and love next year for certain.”