The Sports Medicine Committee of the Connecticut State Medical Society (CSMS) has advised the CIAC to push back the proposed start of competition for the winter sports season to continue to view COVID metrics and data further.
The CIAC noted in its proposed winter sports plan, released on Monday to state athletic directors and adjusted after receiving further guidance from the state Department of Health that preseason practice for sports categorized as low or moderate risk could still begin Jan. 19 with games to begin as early as Feb. 1.
The CSMS committee, which advises the CIAC on all medical matters, reviewed that material Monday night.
“We offer what we think is the best care we can provide for student-athletes with what we know,” said Dr. Stephanie Arlis-Mayor, the chairperson of the CSMS committee. Arlis-Mayor said it is a “moving target” when asked how long the committee suggested competition be pushed back.
“We would like to continue to use the next two weeks to review the status of the COVID data in Connecticut,” Arlis-Mayor said. “We need to continue to track COVID data after events such as holiday traffic, students getting back to the classroom and families getting together. It is important for us to look at all of that and use that information to make decisions about competition, which brings small regions together. It also gives us a little more time to allow our student-athletes to get back into shape.”
The CIAC offers eight winter sports: Boys and girls basketball, boys hockey, and gymnastics are categorized as moderate risk, and boys swimming and diving is low risk, while wrestling, competitive dance and competitive cheer are classified as high risk.
The CIAC Board of Control is expected to review, revise and vote on the proposed winter sports plan Thursday morning. Glenn Lungarini, the CIAC executive director, indicated on Monday the possibility of providing more practice and/or conditioning time for the student-athletes could be the case and would be discussed by the board.
School superintendents will be making the decisions whether or not it is safe enough for their districts to conduct a season and for how long if they do move forward. Currently, the proposed winter sports plan includes a regular season of 12 games or matches for each sport – except those in the high-risk category – and a postseason running from March 8-21.
There is a lot for the CIAC Board of Control to determine Thursday morning: when does the regular season actually start, how many games can be played and, if enough quarantine issues arise, can a complete postseason be held, or does it become a “postseason experience” like the fall and it ends up being just league tournaments because of travel concerns or otherwise. Some of these determinations won’t be made until a later date.
“(Thursday) will be the first opportunity for the Board to consider the impact of DPH’s most recent guidance,” Lungarini said. “All discussions to this point have included postseason play. I do not know what the Board will decide (on any topic) or what the conversations will be like.”
Arlis-Mayor has worked in primary care sports medicine for approximately three decades. She is also the head team physician for Yale University athletics and also has a private practice at Connecticut Orthopedics.
Since coaches have had the opportunity to have conditioning with up to four athletes at a time, Arlis-Mayor said the committee supports sports specific in-person practice to begin next Tuesday.
“We absolutely can’t emphasize sport conditioning enough,” Arlis-Mayor said. “Part of the recommendation is to emphasize to the coaches to look at the kids when they come back and see their preparedness and adjust workout plans.”
The makeup of the CSMS committee includes cardiologists, those involved with pediatrics and internal medicine, physiatrists (physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians), orthopedic surgeons and someone who is both an epidemiologist and an infectious disease specialist.
While teams in moderate to low-risk sports may be able to begin conditioning and some “sports specific non-contact skill development drills” next week, getting in ideal shape for competition will take some time.
“In an ideal world, it’s going to be six weeks from the time somebody starts preseason conditioning,” said Dr. Matthew Rothbard, an athletic trainer who teaches athletic training at Southern Connecticut State University. “That’s the time it takes to get the body physically and mentally ready. That would be until the first practice, but if not, I would hope that would be until the first game.”
A start date for competition has not yet been set, and Rothbard noted that in some sports, athletes are known to “play your way into shape.”
“Coaches would love to have their athletes come into the first day of practice well-conditioned, but obviously that doesn’t always happen,” he said. “So with some sports you can sort of play your way into shape. Basketball does that, but in some sports you can’t do that.”
In some cases, athletes may have been working out on their own to stay in shape.
Does that put an athlete ahead of the game? The answer is “yes and no” according to Rothbard.
“It all depends on what they’re doing,” Rothbard said. “A lot of people condition inappropriately for what the demands of the sport are. So what you need to condition for is specificity — whatever the sport demands. That’s how you should prepare the body.”
He used an example of a basketball player who jogs a mile every day. That athlete is staying in shape, but jogging a mile doesn’t prepare somebody to play basketball.
And, he added, “a lack of conditioning is a major cause of injury. They want to do too much too soon after doing pretty much nothing for so long, and that’s the risk of injury we want to avoid,” Rothbard said.
Arlis-Mayor said some recommendations made by the CSMS committee were that swimmers do not have to wear masks while actually competing and gymnasts did not have to while competing on certain apparatuses.
As far as recommendations on basketball and hockey players wearing masks, “We looked at the evidence transmission of COVID in sport and what we determined was there is not enough research and evidence to either support or refute the use of masks and therefore, will follow the guidelines of DPH and the American Academy of Pediatrics,” Arlis-Mayor said.
Rothbard said masks will likely hinder performance “the higher the intensity of the activity. But in terms of safety, for the individual, they are going to be safe wearing a mask. I personally would rather wear a mask and be able to play than to not wear a mask and not play.”
Dr. Karissa Niehoff, the National Federation of High Schools executive director and former CIAC executive director, said in a NFHS release on Wednesday that Connecticut is one of 21 states yet to begin playing basketball and one of 30 to modify its wrestling season.
The state DPH has recommended no wrestling competition take place due to the sport being in the higher-risk category.
“And in the 30 states that have started basketball, it has been a case of two steps forward, one step back with virus protocols that have shut down individuals and/or teams,” Niehoff said. “In addition, local health restrictions have limited fan attendance to family/friends only, or just 25 percent capacity in some areas.”
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