Middletown Head Coach Zach Blum addresses his team after a preseason practice

Middletown Head Coach Zach Blum addresses his team after a preseason practice

Under pressure from the Delaware Legislature, the DIAA is moving quickly to potentially allow high school coaches to work with athletes their athletes outside of its specific season.

The Delaware Joint Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee met with the Delaware high school sports sanctioning body last month, and under the urging of non-member State Sen. Nicole Poore (D-New Castle/Bear), re-emphasized a resolution that was passed in 2018.

It directed the DIAA to create regulations to allow coaches to coach student-athletes out of season "with restrictions that minimize the risk of unethical activity."

Under Delaware's current rules, high school coaches cannot work with their athletes except in the designated season, and cannot coach their players in any club/private setting away from the school.

Poore, who has children who compete at Caravel, pointed that out to the Sunset Committee, who included that in a list of recommendations for the DIAA, with the request rules be created by December 31.

DIAA Board Member and Rules and Regulations Committee Chair Dr. Matthew Donovan said the committee looked over making policy changes that would include allowing up to four hours a week of instruction over two days, saying that could help families who can't afford outside coaching.

"The hope is that with the coaching out-of-season component during the school year that this is going to afford an opportunity for those athletes who might not be able to participate on that travel team and don't have that opportunity to go places."

Board Medical Representative Dr. Bradley Bley said permitting extra coaching in a specific sport that would reduce multi-sport athletes and encourage specialization goes against medical research and the suggestion of the DIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

"This is the opposite of what the medical literature shows. The medical literature shows the sooner you specialize, the higher the risk of injury and the higher the chance you're not going to play in college, or professionally for that matter. That's been studied extensively. All of the public comment we had for the last regulations were related to that. Yes, we understand other states do this, but it's not supported in the medical literature."

During public comment, Trina Leclerc, Executive Club Director at Premier Volleyball of Delaware, said Bley's concerns have merit, but that the overwhelming sentiment from the high school committee is against DSMAC's recommendation, and that they should trust the coaches' judgements.

"Specialization can be a problem, but I think this was loud and clear from the Rules and Regulations Committee. Kids are going to do what kids are going to do. We can do everything we can to protect them from too much work, and I've watched coaches say we're not practicing today because that best practice sometimes is no practices. We have to give coaches the chance to do best by their athletes."

Other states do allow out-of-season coaching, but not all. New Jersey's NJISSA expressly prohibits it, while it is allowed by Pennsylvania's DIAA.

Besides the extra hours in the school environment, Rules and Regulations also is looking at changing the restriction where a coach cannot work with one of their athletes, even in a club setting.

Board President Dr. Bradley Layfield said this could eliminate situations where it comes down to a club having to choose whether to get rid of a coach or a player, if both are associated with the same high school program.

"You're an interscholastic coach and you also coach a club/travel ball team, and you happen to have one or more of your interscholastic athletes on that private club team, we're not going to get into the business of saying what you can and can't do."

Bley said he's concerned that this could create more powerful club coaches, who could use their positions to recruit, or attract, athletes to their high schools.

"There are going to be a lot of schools that have coaches that run these club teams and they hire them because they have a lot of the good athletes or the best club in the town. I think that creates an incredibly inequity issue, and increases the risk of recruitment. I'm sure if Doug [Thompson, DIAA Board Member] was on here, he'd be talking about the waiver requests, and how this is going to increase the transfers."

Donovan stressed that's not the intention of the updated out-of-season coaching rule.

"It's not designed for you to create your own team outside of school and fill it with your school team athletes. That's not the spirit of this rule, and it's not allowed. It is such that if you work for an outside organization that you can work with your students if they show up on that day."

The Rules and Regulation Committee is scheduled to revisit the topic during their March 30 meeting, with more discussion to follow at the DIAA Board Meeting on April 8.

More discussion is expected on transfer waivers is expected during that session.

EXTRA WEEK OF FOOTBALL?

Before the out-of-season coaching discussion, the DIAA Board also heard an appeal from Seaford, who was looking to extend their season backwards to a "Week 0" on Labor Day Weekend to create schedule flexibility.

Their appeal was tabled, but the DIAA Board appeared open to the idea of allowing schools to appeal for the 11th week to schedule 10 games, although some members, including Dr. Bley, were prepared to vote no before the motion was tabled.

More schools, including Indian River and A.I. duPont who would be affected by Seaford's schedule, are expected to ask for waivers at the April 8 meeting.

SPECTATOR LIMITS

The DIAA Board also discussed Governor John Carney's State of Emergency over amateur sports gathering limits that restriction spectators to two per athlete. 

There was discussion why some schools, including Sanford, were allowed to host DIAA Tournament games with even less, or no, fans than Carney's order.

The Girls Basketball Committee discussed that problem during their tournament seeding meeting, including the idea of forcing those no-spectator schools to go to neutral sites, but after the Boys Basketball Committee decided first they would allow higher seeds to host regardless of spectator rules, they followed suit.

DIAA Executive Director Donna Polk did tell the Board that the decision to move the DIAA Basketball Championship Games away from the Chase [76ers] Fieldhouse to Dover was due to DIAA being unable to establish an acceptable plan with the Division of Public Health that would have allowed for enough spectators to make up the higher rental cost.

Their struggle came during the same week the University of Delaware received permission to host 1,800 spectators [10%] at their football game against Stony Brook on Saturday.