Expert Predictions: How Will the Pandemic Impact HS Football Beyond 2020?

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor

High school football has changed in many ways in 2020, from abbreviated seasons, to increased safety protocols, to decreased operating budgets. While we all hope we’ll get back to normal in 2021, there will be a lasting pandemic impact.

High school coaches can see the way the pandemic has impacted their staff and players. But how will it impact the sport as a whole.

With participation numbers heading in the wrong direction heading into the 2020 season, it’s clear the sport is at a crossroads. FNF Coaches asked state association executives, medical experts and athletic directors to predict how the game will be impacted beyond 2020.

Steve Roberts, Arkansas Activities Association Associate Executive Director

“We’ve obviously learned a lot through the pandemic. Adjustments have been made, and some will be permanent. There may be more opportunities for teaching and meetings on Zoom and HUDL. The virtual platforms offer a forum to teach the game.”

Clark Ray, District of Columbia State Athletic Association Executive Director

“We’ll be at the beck and call of the science and data and what the Department of Health allows us to do. I don’t see them relaxing standards on disinfecting or hygiene. Those are good practices going forward. Whether fans will be allowed in games, that will be decided by science. We’ll continue to host virtual coaches conferences because it beats the hassle of travel. But the fellowship is missed.”

Steve Figueroa, Georgia High School Association Media Relations

“We’re not sure we’re done making adjustments this year. We are still trying to get to Dec. 30 with a goal of handing out trophies. We haven’t even looked beyond this year, but we’re tracking all of our changes to see what we’ll keep in place for next year.”

Mark Lentz, Kansas Activities Association Assistant Executive Director

“I honestly don’t know what will change. Without question, there will probably be more emphasis on desanitizing requirements and what’s been put into place. Hopefully we can get back to a little semblance of normal, but I don’t know that we’ll ever get back to the old normal.”

Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont Health Commissioner

“I think the masks are here to stay. I’m not aware of any substance of literature that actually counters the use of masks because it could be harmful. I don’t think there is really a lot of support for that. But again, like anything in a pandemic, where the population has never masked before, I’m sure this will get more and more studied.”

Rudy Alvarado, Arcadia High School (Phoenix, Ariz.) Athletic Director

“I think COVID will have a negative impact on my athletic funding until we can get back to some sense of normalcy with playing sports and having crowds to watch. The longer we go on without sports, football and boys basketball in particular, the longer it’ll cut into what I can do. The gate receipts on those two sports provide the bulk of what we take in each year.”

The Long-Term Mental Health Impact

Dr. Timothy McGuine, PhD, ACT, led a team who surveyed more than 3,200 young athletes across Wisconsin in May. Reports of moderate to severe depression were up by more than 20 percent among those who took the survey. 

Meanwhile, 65 percent of recent survey respondents reported feeling a level of anxiety that’s typically treated by medical intervention.

At the same time, physical activity was down 50 percent.

“We think that these psychosocial effects will really impact not just these kids now but our health care spending and how we deal with it as a community and culture going forward in the state of Wisconsin,” he said.

The worsening mental health and reduced quality-of-life scores reported by student-athletes in May can’t be attributed exclusively to the cancellation of organization athletics, but it’s likely a factor, according to McGuine. He believes athletes who deal with pandemic-related disappointment this fall could have lasting mental health repercussions.