GEORGIA — The sports landscape has been altered by the coronavirus pandemic, and those impacts will extend to high school basketball in Georgia this year. The Georgia High School Association announced last week it is rolling out a string of safety protocols for the 2020-21 season.

The rule changes and suggestions are being implemented to “decrease potential exposure to respiratory droplets by encouraging social distancing, limiting participation in administrative tasks to essential personnel and allowing for appropriate protective equipment.”

Perhaps the most noteworthy change is the elimination of a jump ball to tip off each contest. Instead, the visiting team will be awarded possession of the ball to open the game. In overtime, a coin toss will determine which team will be on offense to begin the period.

Another element affected by the new rules will be throw-ins. Instead of standing beside a player on the sideline or end line and handing over the ball, the official will remain six feet away from athletes and bounce them the ball ahead of handing it over. Officials are also permitted to use an electronic whistle and wear gloves.

Also included in the updates is a change that allows both officials and players to wear cloth facemasks. The GHSA’s outline also directs schools to “consider requiring coaching staff and other bench personnel to wear face coverings while on the bench.”

Though not required, schools are encouraged to add additional rows or chairs between the end line and coach’s box to allow for social distancing in the bench area. This is similar to other suggestions given by the GHSA for expanding benches/player areas in football, volleyball and softball.

Another suggestion from the GHSA is to add another row of chairs for the bench and to place benches opposite spectator seating if possible.

Pre-game conferences will be limited to referees and the head coach from each team, and post-game handshakes are prohibited and to be replaced by each team lining up on their respective free throw line to wave to the opposing team in a show of sportsmanship.

The home team will also be responsible for ensuring the game ball is sanitized prior to the game, during timeouts and between quarters.

While teams adjust to the new protocols, some local programs will also face a new play landscape with the addition of a shot clock in select games.

In July, the GHSA opted to join a short list of state high school athletic associations to allow for a shot clock. Under the organization’s plan, the 30-second shot clock will be phased in over the next three seasons. Beginning this year, a shot clock may be used in select holiday tournaments and showcase games.

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