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Delaware high school coaches got closer to being allowed to spend more time with their athletes out of season, while the football community is still working on a postseason structure for their new alignment.

Those were the takeaways after a long day for members of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, which started with a Rules and Regulation Committee meeting looking to end a three-year stalemate over updating out-of-season coaching rules.

Under the watchful eye of two research analysts from the General Assembly, who has threatened to take over creating coaching policies if DIAA can't handle it themselves, a three-hour discussion commenced, focused primarily on how much of a break single-sport athletes should get over the course of a school year, and whether athletes under 15 should be receiving the additional instruction.

Currently, Delaware's high school coaches cannot work with their athletes outside of the specific season of the sport, and cannot coach those athletes in outside clubs or camps.

Dr. Julie Moyer Knowles from Pivot Physical Theory spoke about what the DIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee wanted to put an age cap on extra work.

"There are two different research groups. One is how much rest is needed from any given activity in a year for youth sports. The other group is at what point is it safe to overload, to give more than a single-season to a student-athlete? At SMAC, we voted to knock it down to January 1 of sophomore year because the percent of people who reach that age are higher than waiting until junior year."

DMA Athletic Director Jeremy Jeanne responded with a concern that athletes are already usurping that idea with club sports.

"When you have a freshman or sophomore athlete who participates in club sports, we don't have, as a school, any oversight on those athletes."

Moyer Knowles responded.

"I totally agree with you, but the fact that is wrong still remains. Whether we can enforce it on out-of-school activities is not the point, because it doesn't fall under DIAA regulation. Our point on DSMAC is that if we will pass a rule, we want it to be as safe for the student athlete as reasonably possible. And we have to negotiate what is reasonably possible in this case."

Ultimately, the Rules and Regulation Committee chose to recommend all high school students be allowed to receive up to 4 hours per week of additional instruction, after creating a series of dead periods of no coaching in the school for high school coaches to their athletes.

Coaches would not be permitted to work with their in-school athletes during the first four weeks of the other two seasons, for example, a volleyball coach could not work with their athletes at the start of winter or spring. In addition, all sports would have a 2-week dead period after the final state championship game is contested in June.

Rules and Regulation also voted to remove any language restricting a coach from hosting one of their high school athletes in a non-exclusive camp or program, although there are limits in place to prevent a club from becoming an outside version of any one high school team.

Jeanne said he believes all the regulations could drive even more elite athletes out of the DIAA for clubs or other states.

"I am concerned, no matter what language you use, who are participating in a specific sport all year long, regardless of what the medical professionals are saying -- which I don't disagree with -- the kids and families are opting for their children to participate all year long if that's what they want to do. If we're saying in interscholastic athletics that we're going to minimize that, which we have for the longest time, I'm wondering if that's going to push some of these athletes out of participating in high school sports."

Out-of-season coaching has been discussed for three years in Delaware, but the topic rekindled recently after Sen. Nicole Poore pushed the Delaware General Assembly's Sunset Committee to look at why DIAA hadn't passed changes to permit more out-of-season coaching in concert with a Senate Concurrent Resolution in 2018. 

Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker was active in criticizing the DIAA's lack of final action on the topic last week, but did not respond to WDEL's request for comment as to whether she had heard from medical professionals, or just frustrated parents and community members.

The Rules and Regulations Committee recommendations will go to the DIAA Board of Directors for possible approval on Thursday, April 8.

Football still searching for a postseason structure

Later in the evening, the DIAA Football Committee met, hoping to create a recommendation for the new postseason structure with three divisions. 

They wrestled with two styles of playoff qualification structures, one based on a point system loosely based off of Delaware's pre-existing football model, with other sports blended in, or a divisional model where the top teams from each team qualify, regardless of out-of-division games.

With Class 2A having 21 teams and three districts, it was proposed that they reduce the amount of recommended playoff teams from 16 down to 12, which would allow the top four teams in each of the three divisions to qualify.

Class 3A, for the top-performing schools, is currently slated to be an 11-team open tournament under the Football Committee's recommendation, while Class 1A would be an 8-team event.

While divisional records would get teams into the tournament, the committee agreed they would continue to hone in on a point system that would be used to seed the teams after they've been selected. One proposal would offer bonus points at the .500, .700, and .900 opponent winning records, with a small bonus for a team playing at a higher division, but no penalty for a larger team playing down. Out-of-state teams would all be treated as same-level opponents, so the only bonus would be for winning percentage.

Their ideas will be forwarded to the DIAA Board of Directors as well, who must decide whether to great an extra week at the start of the season to help teams schedule 11 games in 10 weeks, plus whether 3A and 2A would be granted a fourth week of playoff competition to complete their tournaments, which would run into the start of the winter season.