Salesianum Football

"At this time, the best I can tell Salesianum is --  I wish you a lot of luck in trying to reach out to folks in Pennsylvania, and potentially there could be some movement out of the next football committee meeting."

DIAA Board President Dr. Bradley Layfield said that to Salesianum's Scott Mosier after the athletic director made a presentation in an attempt to push the DIAA into helping them get more than their current three in-season football games.

Salesianum has only been able to secure games against Henlopen North members Smyrna, Sussex Central, and Dover, representing three of the available seven game slots in the pandemic-shortened 2020 football season.

There are three schools in Delaware with open dates that match Salesianum's -- Tower Hill, Wilmington Friends, and Sussex Tech.

Mosier said he reached out to all three and said he knew the two Independent Conference schools would be a tough sell.

"It's difficult for a weaker program to play a particularly strong program that year because there's physicality involved. For example, we could have picked up some Division 2 schools in week one, but then the physicality of that game could hurt them, so I understand that."

As for Henlopen North member Sussex Tech, the teams met in the regular season from 2015-18, with the Sals winning three of the four games, but Mosier said they've rejected the Sals offer, and DIAA Board President Bradley Layfield said they can't do anything about it.

"DIAA cannot force Sussex Tech to play Salesianum, even though they match up and Salesianum wants to fill the game. That's obviously Sussex Tech's right to not play that week, or pick up another school."

Mosier came to DIAA with a list of proposals to try to get assistance in opening up opportunities for Delaware teams to schedule the Sals.

He recommended becoming a de facto member of the Henlopen North Conference this season, but that conference would have already been tied to 8 games had two members, Milford and Polytech, not agreed to both split their schedules between the North and South, giving all 14 football playing teams in the Henlopen Conference one out-of-conference slot.

Mosier also pushed to eliminate the automatic bids to the DIAA Tournament, which is seen as a reason the 8-team Blue Hen Flight A and B conferences stayed with conference-only schedules, to secure their automatic bid.

Mosier, and former Salesianum Athletic Director Mike Hart, who is on the DIAA Board, were asked about their attempts to get into the Blue Hen Conference. Hart said they've tried in the past, including a lawsuit in the 80s.

"Over my 40 years, I think we have applied twice, and have wanted to other times, but their charter specifically says they are for public schools, and I believe the Henlopen Conference's constitution says the same thing. That automatically locks us out." 

Doug Thompson questioned whether Salesianum, the only Division 1 private school in Delaware, would make sense in public-school conference that has different restrictions on its student body. 

"You're able to recruit kids, or get kids, from outside the state of Delaware, the Tri-State area, and also our three counties, as opposed to lets say, a Christiana, or a Brandywine."

Mosier also looked to strike down the Blue Hen Conference rule that teams had to play every other team in the conference.

His final push was to create a 17-team Division 1 super conference (8 Flight A, 8 Henlopen North, and Salesianum, seemingly ignoring Diamond State Conference member Wilmington Charter), which would allow for scheduling flexibility.

"The complexity of our state has changed over the past five years, and certainly over the past ten years, where there's only 16 big schools, and a lot of small schools. The conferences, the way they were set up originally, times are different now. I think it needs to be re-evaluated, and for us, I hope it would be reevaluated now so it would give our students the opportunity to play a sport."

"I've seen in the bylaws of DIAA that it's important for fair competition among member schools. The way the rules are set up now, it doesn't feel like Salesianum is going to have the opportunity to have the same competition that every other school in the state of Delaware is being afforded."

Ultimately, it was decided that the DIAA Board would vote to compel the DIAA Football Committee to take out the proposed automatic bids for Flight A and Henlopen North, in an attempt to make the Blue Hen Conference not feel compelled to play a complete conference schedule. 

It failed by an 8-5 vote.

One last idea that got bounced around by the board was potentially either dropping the DIAA State Tournament altogether, or extending the season by a week, to create a Week 8, that would then give Flight A schools the flexibility to schedule an out-of-conference team like Salesianum.

Layfield said the board did not have the power to extend the end of the season date past December 19 in an emergency regulation, because that's not how they work in the Department of Education.

"We've got an equity issue with Sallies right now, but there's no eminent peril to health, safety, or welfare. That's the route we would have to take to add an 8th week."

So Salesianum must continue to look across state borders, where Delaware's mandatory mask rule could put them at a disadvantage, depending on where they end up playing. Delaware's rule would still apply to the Sals in another state, and it's unclear how the Delaware Division of Public Health would react if they played another school who was maskless.

As for the masks, the Delaware Interscholastic Officials Council made a presentation for the board on how they would like the mask rule to be applied, as the DIAA has yet to officially approve, or announce, guidance on masks.

A major topic has been medical exemptions, and what it would take to get to that point. 

The DIAA has said it will let the Division of Public Health or schools deal with exemptions, but Layfield quoted Governor Carney's 27th modification to the state of emergency in saying it's virtually impossible see a way not wearing a mask would be allowed.

"A requested accommodation that would endanger a third party or create any likelihood of further infection is, per se, unreasonable, and therefore not required."

DIOC's Greg Bulger said "no mask, no play" would go a long way to maximizing the amount of officials who would be willing at work. It's been estimated at least 25% of officials will not work in a COVID environment, a number that would only rise if maskless faces are exposed.

"There are a lot of officials who, if there is a student-athlete, a coach, in the close quarters of the game, who are there without a mask, we are going to lose a lot of those officials."

The DIAA did not specifically suggest a plan if a team or players test positive for COVID-19, but Dr. Bradley Bley had a warning for teams thinking of skirting the rules, and then having someone test positive.

"An important thing for all of our schools to recognize, and especially our coaches, is that we've seen pictures and posts on Instagram of teams practicing without masks on. If they do get a positive test, it's probably going to mean they'll have to quarantine the entire team, perhaps. I think that goes to reinforce that wearing masks is appropriate, even if you're working with your small team at practice."

DIAA Executive Director Donna Polk told the board that she hopes to have mask guidance out by early next week, potentially even today.

The DIAA Board also voted down attempting to change their emergency regulation to allow for scrimmages, that Layfield said was mistakenly combined into the first competition dates of October 19 and 23, instead of giving pre-season opportunities.

Due to the same "no eminent peril to health, safety, or welfare" clause that kept an 8th game from being added, it also stopped DIAA from adding scrimmages in all sports.

Bley queried the board on if they were necessary, anyway.

"I'm just wondering why do we need scrimmages, the NFL didn't have to do a preseason, so why do we need scrimmages?" 

Board members mentioned acclimation to contact and an attempt to practice their social distancing protocols, but ultimately it failed by a 8-yes, 5-no vote, when it did not reach the required 10 voted needed to change a regulation.

The board also approved a proposal from the Volleyball Committee on their return-to-play plan, scratching down a mid-set break because social distancing and mask-breaks can be done between points more often than in continuous-action sports like soccer and field hockey.

There's also still a potentially expensive question hanging over DIAA schools when it comes to insurance.

At the end of last month's meeting, Caesar Rodney superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald found out that his district was being hit with an extra charge for catastrophic insurance, something he said had been covered by previous administrations of the DIAA.

"What is the purpose of our dues if, in fact, we're being told that we have to provide our own catastrophic insurance policies for our children?"

The DIAA's lawyer, along with a Department of Education liaison said that previous DIAA policies are being looked at, and that if it is a problem for the districts, they should potentially look for assistance from the Delaware General Assembly.

It's uncertain just how expensive that insurance could be, especially for schools already dealing with tighter budgets due to increased COVID-related costs. 

The DIAA Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting on Thursday, October 15, where they will get an update on recommendations from the Division of Public Health, Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, and their fall sports committees before the beginning of competition on October 19.