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With time running out, Gov. Steve Sisolak offers little clarity on prep football's future

High school football
The future of high school football remains on hold after Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak's press conference Tuesday. (file)

With high school football practice scheduled to start Saturday, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak provided little clarity on the immediate future of the viability of playing that sport this season during his Thursday press conference in which he announced a relaxation of some COVID-19 restrictions.

Football remains on the state's "no play" list, so while the NIAA's revised schedule allows for practice this weekend, teams in the state will be restricted from conducting full practices until that "no play" list is revised. Without further changes, high school football in Nevada is on life support with games scheduled to begin March 5 with a minimum required number of practices before those contests are allowed.

Sisolak was asked directly about high school football and the "no play" list during his press conference and said his staff is still sorting through that issue.

"We're working through that right now as we speak," Sisolak said. "My team has been in contact with the NIAA several times a week to determine that. Club sports are now currently allowed, your soccer, your baseball, your softball, that sort of thing. We're working on bringing some more tournaments in. That's something that we didn't quite get done for this press conference, but we hope to have some guidance in that area in the next few days. We are currently talking to the club sports folks and the NIAA."

Due to COVID-19, the NIAA revised its sports seasons in the summer, pushing everything back to the 2021 calendar year. Winter sports just wrapped up with basketball and wrestling, also on the "no play" list, having their seasons canceled due to the state restrictions. Locally, only skiing was able to complete its winter season.

Fall sports, including football, are next up. The other fall sports, including cross country, girls golf, volleyball, soccer and tennis, are all allowed to be played under state guidelines. Football, however, is in a holding pattern. Non-football fall sports can begin practice Feb. 20 and games March 5. Football's practice schedule was scheduled to start a week earlier, this Saturday, because of the acclimation process required for the full-contact sport. Teams can do conditioning work starting Saturday but can't engage in full-contact practice until football is lifted off the no-play list.

Spring sports are scheduled to play April 16-May 22 with practices starting April 3. The spring sports include baseball, boys golf, softball, swimming and diving, track and field and boys volleyball (South). All of those have been cleared to compete, leaving football as the only NIAA-sanctioned sport with an uncertain future.

The NIAA, which oversees high school sports in the state, has not released a statement since Sisolak's press conference.

Clark County School District, which is not conducting in-person learning, canceled fall sports last month. It had previously canceled winter sports. While Sisolak said his office should be able to provide some clarity on the status of high school sports in the coming days, he did not appear to give a sense of urgency in clearing football to play.

"When we talk about the high school sports, I'm going to cut right to the chase," Sisolak said. "My primary concern is to get them in the classroom. I'd like to get them on a baseball field, a soccer field. I'd love to see that happen. But first I want to get them in a math class and an English class. That's where our emphasis has been."

In Washoe County, middle and high schools at the public level are conducting in-person learning on an every-other-day basis. Elementary schools are doing 100 percent in-person learning except for families that have opted out and requested virtual learning.

Sisolak also announced a small relaxation on the maximum gathering limit in the state starting Monday that includes venues being eligible for gatherings capped at 20 percent of total fixed seated capacity while adhering to strict social distancing requirements and all mitigation protocols. With Las Vegas hosting a bevy of conference college basketball tournaments, including the Pac-12, Mountain West and West Coast Conference, next month, attendance could be more robust from the previous maximum of 50 people gathered.

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