McALLEN — The University Interscholastic League, the governing body for the majority of public high school athletics throughout the state, has decided to greenlight live Friday night high school football broadcasts for the upcoming season as Texas continues to try to slow the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The UIL, which announced its decision via a news release Thursday, indicated early in the summer that the organization was open to making a one-year exception to its ban on live Friday night football telecasts if COVID-19 continued to rack local communities through the beginning of the school year and into the fall.
Principally, the measure is intended to give students and fans in coronavirus hotspots a way to watch their favorite teams in areas where stadium attendance may either be restricted or forbidden by local public health orders.
In an effort to increase accessibility of high school football games and encourage social distancing across Texas, the UIL will allow live telecasts of regular season football games on Friday nights during the 2020-2021 school year.
— Texas UIL (@uiltexas) August 13, 2020
“I know UIL talked a little bit about this. They didn’t necessarily present the idea of fewer spectators, but controlled numbers,” said McAllen ISD athletic director Paula Gonzalez told The Monitor in July.
“You give more people the opportunity to watch the game, and you also give those that are a little leary maybe of physically going and attending the game an opportunity to watch too. I think that’s going to be a big thing: the media, the technology and making sure everybody gets the opportunity to watch the game.”
According to the news release, the organization defines a telecast as, “Any live or tape-delayed video footage of a contest in its entirety that can be transmitted through television, Internet Web stream, Webcast, video podcast, smartphone apps, tablet computer apps, closed-circuit channels, weather camera or any other medium.”
The lifting of the broadcast ban, however, remains attached to several caveats, mainly pertaining to health and safety protocols.
All webcasts and telecasts must abide by UIL broadcast and advertising guidelines and be pre-approved to stream or televise the game by school administrators.
Several Valley school districts, including McAllen ISD, PSJA ISD and Weslaco ISD among others, already produce their own district-sponsored broadcasts, which are uploaded to YouTube weekly during the season.
Schools serving as the home team for a particular contest may, with prior approval, have one digital broadcast streamed on the internet and one televised broadcast per game, while the visiting team may have one digital broadcast also streamed on the internet.
Although, if there is only enough room for two broadcast production crews to properly socially distance, those spots will go to the home and visiting team’s respective, pre-approved internet broadcast crews. Web streams on any medium are prohibited without the school’s approval.
“Any negotiations regarding telecasts are at the discretion of the school district and must be in compliance with UIL rules,” the organization said in a written statement.
The UIL’s updated press box guidelines mandate that each host venue make every attempt to accommodate both the home and visitor production webcast crews, while limiting crews to essential personnel.
Any people in the press box during a contest must maintain at least 6 feet distance between individuals, when possible, include mandatory face coverings and comply with any additional county or state-level, health-related recommendations.
UIL advertising regulations ban any ads for or references to political announcements; cigarettes and other tobacco products; alcohol; firearms; sexual services or entertainment venues; and gambling services or venues.
The UIL also maintains a list of general broadcast guidelines that all announcers must follow, which includes: forbidding dramatization of any incidents or unsportsmanlike conduct by fans or participants; outlawing pejorative criticism of any officiating during the game; and banning any comments that may cause anxiety for viewers at home, such as injuries, unpreventable incidents and other accidents.
No Rio Grande Valley school districts have released stadium attendance policies thus far, although few have considered eliminating fans entirely to this point, opting instead for more creative seating arrangements.
However, many districts that elect to provide their own broadcasts on live television or online will likely turn to football advertisers to offset some of the COVID-19, athletics-related costs they’re set to incur.
“One of our good practice situations was when we did graduation with social distancing. We did the pods, where you get to sit in groups with your families and stuff like that. I don’t think we have looked at zero spectators, but we have looked at the situation with different capacity numbers and practicing social distancing and stuff like that,” Gonzalez said.
“It will present a challenge to our sales of tickets. When you look at your reserved sections and stuff like that, I know that McHi, for example, sells out 90-95% of those reserved tickets. It’ll be pretty tough; we’ll either have to make a bigger reserved area or really, really think of some creative ways where everybody gets the opportunity to come in.”
Cameron County schools may reopen for in-person instruction and extracurricular activities Sept. 8, while Willacy County schools are allowed to reopen Sept. 21.
A surprising and consequential bit of news out of Starr County
It’s unclear how this will affect several school districts like Roma and Rio Grande City and their return to classrooms and practice fields
— Andrew McCulloch (@ByAndyMcCulloch) August 10, 2020
Hidalgo County and Starr County schools are permitted to resume on-campus classes and practices on Sept. 28, although Starr County’s public health authority resigned unexpectedly Monday, leaving school districts like Rio Grande City, Roma and San Isidro somewhat up in the air for the time being.
On Friday, Starr County appointed a new county health authority, Dr. Antonio Falcon, who said he would donate his payment from the county to Starr County Memorial Hospital.
Currently, the Rio Grande Valley’s four Class 6A and Class 5A districts — specifically District 31-6A, District 32-6A, District 16-5A DI and District 16-5A DII — and the three-team District 16-4A DII pod of Port Isabel, Raymondville and Rio Hondo, are scheduled to return to the gridiron for a week of scrimmages the weekend of Friday, Oct. 16, with the regular season tentatively slated to kick off throughout the Valley one week later.