The Missouri State High School Activities Association is changing its rules for this coming school year to allow schools with online-only classes local discretion about whether to participate in fall athletics.


The MSHSAA Board of Directors met virtually this week and granted relief to certain policies and by-laws — for 2020-21 only — due to the coronavirus pandemic.


MSHSAA is waiving the usual requirement that schools must provide in-person instruction to participate in athletic practices and competitions. This change applies to schools beginning the year with entirely virtual instruction or those that transition to that format, provided they follow all health department requirements and phases.


"After a long discussion, the board determined this should be a local school decision," MSHSAA wrote Wednesday in an announcement. "Upon the approval of the board, a member school may now determine if its teams will participate in MSHSAA activities while its students are receiving virtual instruction only, while following all requirements and guidelines set forth by their health department officials.


"Students must meet all requirements of the local school, with the local school having the ability to always be more restrictive. It is a local school decision on what criteria it puts in place in order to earn the privilege to represent the school in interscholastic competition."


The MSHSAA board also lowered the threshold for postseason eligibility in all fall sports this year.


Teams normally have to complete at least half of a standard regular season to participate in postseason competition. This fall, teams that complete less than half of their schedule will remain eligible for the postseason.


This decision was made "given the sudden changes that may occur during the season," MSHSAA wrote.


Additionally, MSHSAA approved delaying the release date of class and district assignments for fall sports by nearly a month, from Aug. 21 to Sept. 18.


Schools will have until Sept. 11 to notify MSHSAA if they have a sport that will not be able to participate in the postseason. They would then be removed from the classification process.


High school football teams will be allowed the option of a two-team jamboree this year instead of the traditional format of a four-team preseason event.


Columbia Public Schools athletic director David Egan said earlier this week an official decision hasn’t been made yet on the status of the jamboree involving Rock Bridge, Hickman and Battle, but multiple plans have been discussed.


The first Friday of the prep football regular season is scheduled for Aug. 28.


Fall sports practices are set to begin next Monday across the state.


MSHSAA acknowledged earlier this week the possibility of postponing fall activities or offering "regional competition outside the traditional season," but the association has remained steadfast in its quest to start sports on time.


"With the changing face of the start of the school year for our member schools, the board and staff want to discuss possibilities that would allow as many students to participate as safely as possible," Kerwin Urhahn, MSHSAA executive director, wrote Monday in a statement. "The association wants to work with schools to provide as many opportunities as possible."


The MSHSAA rule changes Wednesday come as school districts in St. Louis and other parts of the state have announced their intention to start the school year online-only.


The St. Louis Department of Public Health advised school districts last week to begin the 2020-21 school year virtually, citing an increased number of COVID-19 cases. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, approximately 20 school districts in the St. Louis area have decided to move to 100% virtual classes to start the school year.


The neighboring Illinois High School Association recently announced a new schedule for athletics this school year. IHSA moved higher-risk fall sports including football, boys soccer and girls volleyball to the spring along with several other changes.