MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – He’s the guy tasked with answering a litany of questions during a time with as many unknowns as answers. Still, West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission Executive Director Bernie Dolan is doing the best he can.
Thrust into a world of uncertainty with the COVID-19 virus pandemic during the girls’ basketball state tournament in mid-March, Dolan was at the forefront of one of the first high school sports commissions suspending state tournaments. In the days following the tournament suspension, the boys’ state tournament was put on hold, as was all practices and spring sports schedules.
Now, into the second week of April, some states like Pennsylvania have decided to pull the plug and cancel the remainder of the academic year. The West Virginia Department of Education has yet to make that call, hoping to reopen schools by May 1. Still, Dolan and the WVSSAC are at a standstill.
“We’ve looked at a number of options and a contingency plan is one of them,” Dolan said. “Until we figure out when we’re going back to school, there’s no use making them public. Bottom line is, whenever you say something, it’s outdated because the information has changed. But I’d say we’re about at the end of our ability to have a [state basketball] tournament.”
With basketball — including the University High boys’ and girls’ teams — effectively over, spring sports are next on the chopping block. Even if schools open on the targeted date, every spring sport would be picking up more than halfway through the season. This would call for a radical move: A shortened regular season followed by the playoffs. Dolan notes that this would extremely limit teams, but the ultimate goal is to get athletes competing. Regardless of his hopes, it’s too early for Dolan to comment on too much or go down a hypothetical rabbit hole.
A shortened season would help alleviate any problems that would arise should individual counties close facilities for the rest of the academic year, such as Jefferson County, which made that call March 24. According to Dolan, these individual county closures wouldn’t throw a wrench into the overarching system or state tournament since this is more common than one would imagine.
“We’ve never held up a tournament for one or two counties who haven’t been able to make it. It would have to be a significant number who are not participating,” he said, noting past experiences during winter seasons when inclement weather has kept teams from participating.
The overarching tone, however, is that even for a guy who’s supposed to have all the answers, there are still too many unknowns with COVID-19 to make a call right now.
“It’s different times and until we get the definitive answer when we’re going back [to school], we’re guessing for everything we’ll do,” he said.