With the fall season just weeks away, Missouri Stage High School Activities Association Communication Director Jason West gives his thoughts on several topics as the 2017-18 school year approaches.
Q: Jason, can you tell me a little about the dead period or dead week? How did this come about and why was it implemented?
A: The summer dead period began a few years ago, at the same time the summer contact days began.  During the summer dead period no contact takes place between school coaches/directors of MSHSAA-sponsored activities and students enrolled in the member school, or who will be enrolled in the member school during the next school year.
Also, during the dead period school facilities are not utilized by enrolled students in connection with any sport or activity governed by MSHSAA. The dead period is a “no school activities time”; no open gyms, competitions, practices, conditioning, weight training; no activity-related functions or fundraisers, camps or clinics at school facilities or sponsored elsewhere by the school; no coaches/directors or students may have planned contact other than casual, normal community, non-activity contact. While there may be sports activities during this time, they must not involve the school coach, the school or school facilities.
In part, the summer dead period was enacted to help everyone involved have a defined time or "guaranteed" time they can enjoy away from school.  With all sports and activities having summer practices, there will always be someone at school that needs to open buildings, supervise facilities, etc.  The summer dead period allows not just students and their families, but also coaches and administrators and their families time to schedule vacations and such.
Q: What are the rules for the dead week?
A: The summer dead period shall be nine consecutive days in length, and must begin on a Saturday and last through the second following Sunday.  Each school is responsible for setting a summer dead period for its athletic activities and one for its non-athletic activities (band, music, speech).  These dead periods may be concurrent or separate. The earliest possible dead period may be set to start no earlier than the Saturday following the school’s last day of classes or the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, whichever is later. The latest possible dead period would end on the Sunday prior to the first allowable high school fall practice (Sunday of Standardized Calendar Week Number Five).
Bona fide credit-bearing summer school courses taught by certified teachers in their curricular areas shall be exempt from the ‘use of school facilities’ restriction if held during the dead period; however, no sport-specific classes (e.g. Fundamentals of Basketball) may be held during the dead period.
Q: It seems like every year the fall season starts earlier than the previous year. This year the fall season starts on July 31st. Is there a reason for this?
A: The start of each "season" practice (Fall, Winter, Spring) is based on the standardized calendar.  The first week of this calendar begins with the first Sunday in July.  So for the 2017-18 school year, that was the week of July 2nd.  When the heat acclimatization guidelines began, the membership voted to move up the start of Fall practices to the Monday of Week 5 in order to give school more time to get the required 14-days of practices in before the first competition.  Prior to that, the start of practices was Week 6, which meant programs had 16 days to get 14 days of practice in if they wished to play on the first allowable Friday.  At the time, having the first practice in July was years away and to be honest... I don't believe many schools paid close attention to the implication of moving the start of practices up a week.  Combined with the large influx of new administrators, the start dates became an issue again.  
Q: Because of the early start in the final, will the winter and spring seasons start earlier?
A: No, the start dates for both Winter and Spring remain being Week 18 and Week 35 on the Standardized Calendar.
Q: Is there any changes coming up in the near future that could make a big impact? I have heard that there is talk about moving the softball season for all high schools to the spring?
A: I have been told about this softball rumor, but there is no serious consideration about moving the entire championship season to the Spring.  The move from Fall to Spring has plateaued, but there are a few schools moving each year.  
One major change that is coming as a result of this Spring's annual ballot, the membership voted to move the start date in the Fall back to Week 6 beginning with the 2018-19 school year. This will push the seasons, including playoffs and championships, back one week later than currently.  Cross Country will not change, it will stay on its current schedule.  Football is the only fall sport that is still up in terms of what its schedule will look like, but that should be completed by the end of this fall season.
Q: How is the spring softball season working out? Are there more and more teams moving to the spring?
A: The move from Fall to Spring has plateaued somewhat, but there are a few schools moving each year.   There have been whole conferences that decided to move to the spring series.  Currently there are not enough schools participating in the spring series to warrant a second classification, so there is just one class in the spring.
Q: I know that nation-wide there was concerns about injuries to athletes, especially in football. What has been done to minimize the amount of injuries we have in football?
A: One rule change for this year is the addition of a new definition for a blindside block.  Continuing with the focus on risk minimization, the football rules committee created a definition which defines blindside block as a block that involves contact by a blocker against an opponent who, because of physical positioning and focus of concentration, is vulnerable to injury. Unless initiated with open hands, it is a foul for excessive and unnecessary contact when the block is forceful and outside of the free-blocking zone.
Another rule change expanded the definition of a defenseless player and added specific examples.
Also, three of the four Points of emphasis for this season include:  Responsibility on Players to Avoid Illegal Contact; Illegal Helmet Contact; and Proper Enforcement of Penalties for Violations of the Equipment Rules
Q: Do you think there will ever come a time where private schools have their own state championship? It seems like every year your private schools dominate in the fall, winter and spring season. Your thoughts.
A: I don't believe that time will come as soon as some people believe/hope it will.  In the grand picture, private schools have not been as dominate as some like to dwell.  While there have been programs that have been very successful, the majority of MSHSAA schools do not want to see separate championships.  This topic has been risen many times and each time the membership has ended the discussion.
Q: What seems to be the biggest increase in sports across the board and why do you think that is?
A: The two sports that I believe have seen the most growth over the past few years have most likely been softball and soccer.  With the addition of the spring softball championship, many members with smaller enrollments now have the ability to field softball and volleyball teams.  In the past, these schools did not have enough participants to successfully field both teams at the same time. Now that one is in the fall and one is in the spring, the girls that were having to choose one or the other can choose both.  I believe soccer has grown as schools are now finding more facilities.  This is a combination of city parks upgrading their or adding to their facilities, as well as schools putting in artificial turf fields.  Instead of "ruining" a football field with something other than high school football games, schools can now field soccer teams, field hockey or lacrosse teams on the same field.
Q: How difficult is it for MSHSAA every two years to re-district teams? It seems like more and more every year new schools are being built.
A: Funny you should ask about the difficulty of two-year cycles.  Another change coming with the 2018-19 school year, is annual reclassification and district assignments.  In the past, the two-year cycles has helped with scheduling, especially with football, because district games were part of the regular-season.  Now that schools are open to schedule any opponent, the need for early announcements is not as prevalent.  So beginning with the 18-19 school year, every sport will be reclassified on an annual basis, with the announcements coming two weeks after practices start.  This includes football and basketball.  One reason for this is to help combat the schools that do not have enough participants to compete in postseason.  When a school drops out of the post-season after class and district assignments are announced, it means that there are schools now in the wrong classification.
Q: Do you ever think there will come a time where some sports are played in the summer?
A: I don't see summer competition playing a factor for MSHSAA member schools.  The weather in Missouri does not prohibit schools playing outside in March, like it does in other states like Iowa and Wisconsin.  I believe there is a balance of high school sports and club sports that would be too affected.  I am not sure the member schools want to or are prepared to upset that balance.
Q: With the fall season starting on July 31st, what does MSHSAA's staff do to prepare for another year?
A: There really is not any change in preparation.  When the membership voted to move the start of fall practices to Week 5, there was an initial shock of how quickly things came upon us. The same checklists still exist, the only changes are the dates when items need to be completed.