Most fall sports have the CIAC’s green light to begin full-team practices on Monday with some limited contact permitted. Their counterparts in football continue to search for a way to join in on their own.
Friday was a checkpoint day for those CIAC sports: cross country, field hockey, soccer, girls swimming and girls volleyball. The CIAC said it will check the state’s COVID-19 metrics at each step as it adds practice time or contact and brings teams together. Those sports can play their first games as early as Oct. 1.
“We are moving forward as planned,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said Friday.
The CIAC Board of Control ended the idea of a sanctioned fall 11-on-11 season on Wednesday, voting to stick with its Sept. 4 decision to cancel but, for the first time, considering a full-contact season later in the school year.
That wasn’t enough, said Hand football coach Steve Filippone: Without guaranteeing a spring season (metrics permitting), and saying that fall leagues independent of the CIAC wouldn’t jeopardize anyone’s spring eligibility, it opened the door for such leagues. He said it also pits coaches who want to save a full-contact fall season against their administrators and local officials, seeking approvals to play.
“If for some reason we don’t (succeed), to parents and players, it’s going to look like we gave up, that we don’t care,” Filippone said. “We may be in a worse spot than a week ago.”
The state’s reopening rules have allowed full-contact youth football since July 6. The CIAC several times sought the state Department of Public Health’s recommendation to play a full-contact fall high school football season, but DPH, citing the sport’s high risk for transmitting COVID-19, declined to recommend playing.
The CIAC said Wednesday that its football committee would make recommendations for modified “football activities” for the fall, such as 7-on-7 passing leagues. Those recommendations haven’t come yet, either.
The Southern Connecticut Conference is interested in pursuing an organized 7-on-7 league, quite possibly to start as early as October, league commissioner Al Carbone said Friday.
“A clear majority of them said yes. We are going to get some feedback from coaches and see what we can do,” Carbone said.
An early proposal includes 20-minute running quarters, the use of flags or one-hand touch, a 4-second sack clock and linemen challenges at the beginning of each quarter and before every kickoff.
The linemen that win the most challenges would earn six points for their team. Some of those linemen challenges may include 20-yard shuttles, six-man tug-of-wars and tire flips for distance.
“This by no means could replace 11-on-11 tackle football, but this will keep our kids competitive, and they can continue to work on skill development,” Hamden coach Tom Dyer said.
“Everything about this (proposal) is a low- to moderate-risk activity. It’s no different than a soccer or field hockey game at this point. I’m grateful our league could provide something for our kids that they can do safely.”
There likely would be screening and temperature checks for all participants.
“We will have to see what the athletic directors, the principals, everybody thinks, with the hopes of still having a spring season (11-on-11 full contact),” Carbone said. “We won’t do this if it does not prove to be valuable. Let’s take advantage of this because we don’t know what is to come (in 2021).”
Carbone said participation will not be mandatory for all SCC teams.
For those hoping for a fall 11-on-11 season, there are logistical hurdles.
“Everybody wants to do it,” Filippone said, “but the question is will they be able to do it?”
A club team would have some sanction and support from its school. Out of six SWC athletic directors, only two said a club team was even possible on Friday, but then, only one school had ruled out 11-on-11 football this fall.
Bunnell was still weighing club and private possiblities Friday afternoon.
“Football is going to be played in Connecticut,” Bulldogs coach Ty Jenkins said. “It’s a matter of when, with whom and under what guidelines.”
The CIAC’s fall plan set an Oct. 1-Nov. 21 season. That no longer binds these teams, whether club or private.
Filippone said he has looked at playing five fall games. Insurance cost isn’t the deterrent one might think, he said, but equipment and field-rental fees add up quickly, maybe past his players’ families ability to pay, particularly for so short a schedule.
“They’ll use (a helmet) five times and throw it in the back of a closet,” Filippone said. “It’s sad. It doesn’t work from any angle.”
Jenkins may need uniforms that don’t say “Bunnell” (“We may be ‘One Of The Stratford Football Teams,’” he said). He’s dealing with the local health department (Stratford youth leagues are playing) and the parks department.
“I understand now why (administrators) make the big bucks,” he said with a laugh, adding that his athletic director, Wayne Thrall, has been beyond supportive through the CIAC saga.
They plan to stick with the CIAC’s COVID-19 screening guidelines and to back off if the statistics say they should. Important to Jenkins is that all the Bulldogs play together, not putting them in a situation where some can afford to take part and some can’t.
Plans for 11-on-11 football in the FCIAC’s footprint continued, and Filippone said he’s eager to see how that goes: If that group has 20 varsity or junior varsity teams playing seven games each, and if no COVID-19 cases come out of it, that would seem to endorse playing in the spring.
St. Joseph, meanwhile, will host a combine on Saturday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. in one-hour blocks. There’s a $20 fee.
“We’ll get (the athletes) some measurables that the colleges look at,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “At least they’ll be on somebody’s radar. At least it helps them in some way, because they’re not going to have any film to show.”
Della Vecchia said about 150 players were signed up as of Friday, representing around 25 teams, and some colleges were coming to watch.
He said he wasn’t yet sure what his program, a member of the FCIAC and CIAC champion each of the past three years, might do in the fall.