Minnesota’s high school winter sports season, already pushed back more than a month because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, now is scheduled to begin Monday, Jan. 4.

Whether it actually will start then isn’t 100 percent certain because of the fluid nature of the pandemic, but Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order issued last week will allow high school winter teams to start practice (or in the case of dance team, resume practice) when classes resume following the holiday break. The Jan. 4 start date also applies to organized youth sports, which like high school athletics have been paused since Nov. 20.

On Wednesday, Walz amended the executive order to allow public swimming pools, including those at schools, to open Jan. 4. Initially, they were to be closed until Jan. 11, meaning high school boys swimming and diving teams would have been limited to dryland training for the first week of practice.

Neither the state nor the Minnesota State High School League have said when competitions will be permitted, but the South Suburban Conference already is preparing for games to begin by mid-January. Under schedules posted to the league’s website, the first games for boys and girls hockey and basketball all would take place Thursday, Jan. 14. Other sports also would start competitions in mid-January with most regular seasons ending in early- to mid-March. The one exception is adapted floor hockey, which would have an eight-week training period but no games.

Formats for postseason competition haven’t been finalized, and the MSHSL hasn’t yet committed to holding state tournaments for winter sports. It chose not to hold state tournaments for fall sports. The state-mandated sports pause issued Nov. 20 came during the football postseason and before the end of the volleyball regular season.

The Jan. 4 start was one of three scenarios MSHSL staff worked on and presented to the board of directors at a Dec. 3 meeting. That plan cut at least three weeks from all activities, with hockey losing four weeks and basketball five.

The plan would cut the number of contests by about 30 percent. Basketball and hockey teams would have a maximum of 18 regular-season games, compared to 26 for basketball and 25 for hockey under normal circumstances. Wrestling teams would have the same number of competition dates (16), but allowed contests would be reduced from 45 to 32. As was the case with fall sports, teams will be limited to two games a week except near the end of the regular season, when they can have three competitions in a week to make up events postponed earlier in the season.

Windows remain open for postseason play, and it’s possible the hockey and basketball seasons could stretch into early April if state tournaments are held.

Spring sports practice starts are expected to be delayed, some by as much as three weeks. But the MSHSL currently is planning no changes to the number of contests and the 2021 season remains scheduled to wrap up by mid-June. The pandemic forced cancellation of the entire 2020 spring sports season.

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