The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Board of Control didn’t change its decision Wednesday morning on 11-on-11 full contact football this fall. But the board did amend an earlier decision and cracked the door open to playing a sanctioned season in the spring.
With time running out to acclimatize players to full contact, this would seem to be the final word, at least for fall, on a saga that has gone back and forth a few times over the past month as the CIAC never could gain the state Department of Public Health’s recommendation to allow full-contact football, classified with a high risk of COVID-19 transmission, to go ahead.
The Connecticut High School Football Record Book indicates a season has been played every year dating back to Hillhouse in 1885.
The board had announced on Aug. 23 that any sport canceled in the fall would not be rescheduled for later in the school year. Wednesday’s announcement reversed that for all fall sports, “provided it does not negatively impact spring sports.”
Springtime football is no sure thing, but the CIAC came off its original position, executive director Glenn Lungarini said, after listening to parents and athletes fight for a season.
“Our effort was to do as much as we could to be able play this fall,” Lungarini said in an online press conference.
“We understand the passion of our kids is they want to play full-contact football. They don’t see 7-v-7 — again, a sport we don’t sanction and don’t have rules for — they don’t see that as a football experience.”
Gov. Ned Lamont and DPH have both suggested trying to play a football season later in the school year, when better treatment and a vaccine may be available, rather than trying to play as the state tries to reopen schools.
The CIAC had countered with the state’s strong metrics through the late summer, and Lungarini reiterated Wednesday that there’s nothing to say for sure that the spring will be better than now.
The Board of Control laid out a list that it wants to investigate before going ahead with any spring football, including the impact on winter or regularly scheduled spring sports (who did not play at all earlier this year), the state’s pandemic climate by then, field maintenance and field playability.
There’s no timeline yet for a spring season. “To schedule that season at this point without more information, we don’t think is responsible,” Lungarini said.
Playing fall football without DPH approval would have left it open to local school boards, superintendents and health departments to pull the plug on individual schools’ seasons.
“In discussions with the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents,” read the CIAC’s announcement, “it was made clear to the CIAC that its members are not public health experts and, as such, on the matter of playing football, CAPSS would defer to the appropriate state and local public health authorities.”
On the other hand, a fall without CIAC sanction allows teams to play an 11-on-11 season as a club sport, Lungarini noted, if their administration and local health departments allow, or for private organizations to create teams for high school students. Youth football has been allowed in Connecticut since July 6.
Lungarini said players who may play in a private fall league would be eligible for a potential spring season.
The CIAC and DPH met Friday at the state Capitol with staff from the governor’s office, with the CIAC presenting a set of modifications that it hoped would win DPH recommendation. DPH acting commissioner Deidre Gifford responded on Monday that DPH would hold its ground.
“In order for us to play this fall, we had to find a strategy that would re-categorize the sport out of the high-risk classification,” Lungarini said. “We weren’t able to do that.”
All fall sports — soccer, field hockey, girls swimming, girls volleyball and cross country — have been allowed to practice and condition in groups of no more than 10 to lower the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus. Lungarini said the CIAC will evaluate the remaining fall sports on Friday to see if they can make the move to larger groups and 90-minute, full contact practice on Monday as planned.
Although the DPH still considers girls volleyball indoors to be in the high-risk category, the CIAC, in conjunction with its sports medicine committee members, determined that players wearing masks would mitigate the risks of playing indoors and put the sport into the moderate-risk category.
There of course remains the potential for the COVID numbers to go up through the fall and into the winter. With that comes the possibility of not having a winter sports season for high-risk sports.
The state’s reopening guidelines now in effect list wrestling, basketball and hockey as higher-risk sports. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) puts wrestling in the high-risk category and lists basketball and hockey as moderate-risk sports. The CIAC, though, determined that basketball should be placed in the higher risk category.
“It was suggested by CAAD (the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors), the State Coaches Association, the athletic trainer’s association and the doctors, as well as members of the Board of Control, to look at (basketball),” Lungarini told Hearst Connecticut Media in June. “Players have contact with each other throughout the game and sweating on each other. So we felt it should be moved to high risk.”
Lungarini said Wednesday that “we should look to whatever public health strategies become available as we move forward” to determine the fate of the winter sports season, which is scheduled to begin in December.
The Board of Control had been scheduled to meet Thursday morning.
“Understanding the urgency to communicate to our member schools, to our student-athletes, where we are,” Lungarini said, “and the result of last week’s meeting with the Department of Health and the governor’s office, we felt it was important for us move that time frame up, if we could, to meet that need.”