Playing the waiting game is never an easy thing to do. But that is where things stand right now with having a winter sports season.
Jan. 19 has been known for two months as the CIAC’s potential starting date for practices to begin. Every school athletic director is trying to get everything else that needs to be done to be ready for the start of practice — or the regular season.
“Right now, we’re not allowed to get the teams together, so we’re about a week away from starting and we don’t really know yet how many competitions to schedule,” said Mark Berkowitz, Weston’s athletic director and the SWC co-commissioner. “There’s no blame here as I know everyone at CIAC and the state are doing their due diligence and we appreciate that. It simply makes me feel like I’m not being as communicative as I would like to be with the people of Weston.”
Said SCC commissioner Al Carbone: “The No. 1 thing our athletic directors are inquiring about is what is (the season) going to look like and how are we going to do it.”
The CIAC Board of Control did approve COVID-19 mitigation protocols for the winter season on Thursday morning. Glenn Lungarini, the CIAC executive director, said he wanted to wait for further health guidance from both the state Department of Public Health and Gov. Ned Lamont’s office before submitting to the state athletic directors.
During the fall season, teams spent most of the summer months conditioning in cohorts of 10, then had almost a month of skill development in those cohorts before full practices began 10 days before the start of the regular season, which was delayed until Oct. 1.
Even if the start of the winter seasons gets pushed back, there still isn’t nearly that much time to prepare. Winter teams currently are being allowed to have up to four athletes together for conditioning only.
“Because we were able to start in small cohorts and the athletes were training with part of their team, it was easier to adjust as we moved through the process and much easier to keep all constituents in the loop about what was happening,” Berkowitz said.
So it was important for programs leading into the holiday break and this month to have other items up to date so when practice starts, there are fewer issues to deal with.
“I told the (FCIAC) ADs to plan that you start on the 19th. Organize gym usage time, your ice hockey plan, plan on kids having their physicals done and their permission forms in,” FCIAC Commissioner Dave Schulz said. “Having a (regular-season) schedule in place is really not urgent for the 19th.”
Another thing we know is games will be postponed for COVID and quarantine issues. Carbone said he had to make approximately 50 scheduling changes during the fall regular season across all the SCC’s sports due to either quarantine issues or competitive balance issues.
“I think what we learned from the fall is that we need to be flexible. Things can change at any second of the day. You’re supposed to play somebody one day and that may change that day,” Carbone said. “Everybody in our league knew that was coming.”
Schulz said the possibility exists this winter in the FCIAC if there are two games where one team in each is forced to quarantine, the other two teams could be matched up for a regular-season game, like they are doing now in men’s and women’s college basketball.
The 32-team CCC played in four regions last fall. Commissioner Trish Witkin, also Glastonbury’s athletic director, said the league asked, and was granted, “some flexibility” from the CIAC in changing opponents so multiple teams wouldn’t lose a week of games when opponents would have to quarantine.
“We partnered two regions together so as to expand the pool of who could be scheduled in that instance while still maintaining regionalization,” Witkin said.
The CCC broke down its postseason with the top four teams in each region playing one tournament and the bottom four teams playing in a consolation bracket.
League commissioners and athletic directors have set frameworks for schedules. Basketball has already been reduced from 16 to 12 games during the regular season.
Carbone said the SCC scheduling committee has prepared for anywhere between an 8-15 game schedule and for boys hockey, to play everyone within the league at least once.
While teams will still not be able to play nonconference schedules in basketball and likely wrestling and boys swimming, right now, there won’t need to be a region setup like there was in the fall.
In other words, the FCIAC will go back to a two-division setup for basketball, according to Schulz. Berkowitz said the SWC will go back to one division from two. Bassick and Harding will remain in the FCIAC this winter as the two schools were in the fall, while Fairfield Prep will go back to the SCC after spending the fall in the FCIAC.
Witkin said the region setup from the fall worked well enough that the CCC will remain in those same regions for the upcoming winter season.
“When we began discussions on the winter season, it was decided we would carry over the regions established in the fall instead of returning to our regular divisions,” Witkin said.
The biggest difference is the CTC will be back after all those technical school teams had to play in their own geographical regions, residing in different conferences and leading to some lopsided scores.
Steve Wodarski, the Wilcox Tech athletic director, said his basketball teams will likely play their division teams three times each, then have to find three other league opponents.
“The tricky part will be coordinating the actual dates and times of the contests to allow for cleaning and other COVID protocols,” Wodarski said. “The scheduling of buses and drivers to conform to the additional transportation needs of my teams necessitated by mandated passenger limitations has certainly become a little trickier than in the past.”
Berkowitz said he had no transportation issues in the fall. Weston was able to have the kids be socially distant to and from the games.
“Will it be harder in the cold weather to have windows open? Yes, it could be,” Berkowitz said. “Kids will have to dress a little warmer when traveling because you want to have some ventilation. I do not foresee transportation being an issue.”
Berkowitz said the SWC athletic directors met virtually on Thursday. Schulz said the FCIAC ADs met Friday morning, with both Lungarini and Gregg Simon, the associate executive director of the CIAC, on the call. The CIAC wants a season and both commissioners said there are positive vibes about hanging in and starting a season soon.
Jan. 19 is just over a week away.