Fall sports in Connecticut will go on as planned, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced Wednesday afternoon following an anticipated vote by its Board of Control.
The vote officially denied a recommendation by the CIAC’s football committee to push the season into spring and affirmed all of the other sports committees’ desire to move forward with the fall season’s Sept. 24 start date.
The Board of Control is comprised of school superintendents, principals, athletic directors and consultants — including doctors — from across the state. The decision, done via a Zoom conference call, was unanimous among the 17 voting members, CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said.
“Today, the Board was able to hear from all of those groups and when all of those factors came in and looked at everything, it was a consensus that the opinion we’ve had from July 30 have not changed and that it’s appropriate to play fall sports, including football, at this time,” Lungarini said.
The CIAC football season is still set to begin with practices in cohorts of 15 beginning August 17 and with a kickoff of a six-to-eight game season set for Sept. 24. Teams have been allowed to condition since early July.
All of the other sports — cross country, field hockey, soccer, swimming and volleyball — will also continue with their plans to start the fall season beginning August 27.
The decision stunned high school football coaches around the state, many of whom were resigned to punting the season to the spring based on the recommendation of the CIAC’s football committee, which met Monday.
“I’m stunned,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “I told my kids this morning that they shouldn’t plan on playing until next spring. I was sure of it. And if that happened, we would do everything in our power to prepare them for it.
“But I’m relieved. I think we should be playing. If the kids are going to be at school, they should be allowed to be playing sports.”
Xavier coach Andy Guyon concurred, saying he was surprised, but relieved a final decision has been made. “I’m so mentally drained because we’re on, we’re off, we’re on, we’re off,” he said. “Now we’re full speed ahead. Have a little bit more coffee and away we go.”
Lungarini and the CIAC Board of Control pointed to Connecticut’s continued low coronavirus transmission and death rates as the main reason for moving forward with the season.
On Wednesday, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont’s office reported 22 new COVID-19 cases and six new deaths. Fifty-eight patients remain hospitalized, down 12 from the previous day. The numbers reflected the state’s continued trend of containing the spread of the virus.
The CIAC football committee previously voted to recommend that the season be pushed into the spring because it felt the risks were too great, especially with the uncertainty surrounding the return to school in a month, according to committee chairman Harry Bellucci, the head coach at Hartford Public.
Once all of Connecticut’s local colleges, including the University of Connecticut, all canceled their football seasons, Bellucci said the committee felt it was necessary to recommend postponing the high school season.
“We wanted to buy time,” he said, because there were no guarantees that football could logistically pull off a shortened fall season once students returned to classrooms across the state.
“The (football) committee felt it was the most prudent thing to do,” Bellucci said. “But the Board of Control felt the metrics were safe enough for us to begin practices, so we’re going to start practice and hope for the best.”
While commending the CIAC football committee for making an informed recommendation it believed was in the sport’s best interest, Lungarini said he believed the Board of Control came to its decision with better input from a broad spectrum of officials.
Besides, there was evidence, Lungarini said, that Connecticut’s summer sports programs — including baseball, hockey and basketball — had gone off with few coronavirus issues. Of the virus transmissions that were recorded, Lungarini said contact tracers determined they had not come from playing contact sports.
“If it’s been safe to play sports at a high-school level, and our (coronavirus) levels still declined, then why wouldn’t we try to play this season?” he said. “I don’t think we’re shaking the dice on the fall if we’re looking at the metrics right now.”
Of course, the CIAC once again reiterated that the fall sports plan remains subject to change based on the state’s future COVID-19 numbers. “This could change tomorrow,” Lungarini said. “Right now, it’s safe to play.”
If this fall season is somehow cut short due to rising numbers, Lungarini did not rule out another possible change, but said it would be done on a sport-by-sport basis.
While the decision is in favor of playing, the CIAC said an additional point of emphasis was it believed fans should not be allowed at games and/or practices. It would, however, be up to each school district.
“We understand the complexities of individual district who use public fields and that the ultimate decision rests with the district, however, the CIAC believes that prohibiting fan/spectator attendance aligns best with the goals of education-based athletics,” the CIAC said in its release.
Fourteen states, including the District of Columbia, have already announ,ced the move of football and other fall sports to the spring season. North Carolina on Wednesday announced it would be moving its football season to 2021. Vermont on Wednesday announced it would be playing 7-on-7 touch football.