The CIAC Board of Control has pushed back the start of the winter sports season until Jan. 19, 2021 due to rising COVID numbers across the state.
CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said Tuesday morning’s discussion with the Board centered around a number of schools having already moved to distance learning and other districts considering the move to stay out until after the New Year.
Lungarini said a number of districts had mentioned Jan. 19 as a potential return date to in-school learning.
“The medical professionals we’re speaking with and the epidemiologists we’ve had the opportunity to speak with I think are right in line with what the DPH (State Department of Health) shares, that in the tri-state area, we can expect (COVID) numbers to increase over the next couple of months,” Lungarini said.
“Hopefully, after the first of the year and in mid-January, we may see that start to go down a little bit and then we can get back to play.”
Executive Director Glenn Lungarini with today's news that the CIAC Board of Control voted this morning to postpone the start of the winter sports season until January 19th, 2021. https://t.co/R0Xp7L6XWS pic.twitter.com/iuXYhsm51E
— CIAC Sports (@ciacsports) November 17, 2020
A proposal obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media on Monday had suggested that the sports of boys basketball, girls basketball, boys hockey and boys swimming would begin practice on Dec. 5, moved back from the original start date of Nov. 21. Games for both boys and girls basketball and meets for boys swimming were to have started on Dec. 17.
The CIAC’s proposal had games for hockey beginning on Jan. 11 and competition for both indoor track and gymnastics not starting until January too.
Now only off-season conditioning can be held until Jan. 19. Teams are prohibited from practicing until then. Games can begin only after 10 days of practices are held.
“I’m OK with the decision if everybody is really committed to giving these kids as full a season with (a state) tournament as we can,” Notre Dame-West Haven athletic director and basketball coach Jason Shea said. “I hope it’s not another similar situation for the kids like the spring or the fall where it either got pushed back (the fall) or canceled (last spring season). That would be very disappointing.”
The sports of wrestling, competitive cheer and dance are in the high-risk category and could not be held until 2021 at the earliest, as determined by Gov. Ned Lamont and the state DPH.
Lungarini said that the CIAC had surveyed principals and administrators from its member schools about continuing with athletics if moved to full distance learning due to staffing issues. Of the between 95-100 responses received, the results, according to Lungarini were as follows:
Approximately 44.2 percent said they would continue both practice and play games while learning remotely; 14.7 percent would just practice, but not hold any games; and 41.1 percent would not do either while away from the classroom.
Youth leagues like travel basketball and AAU are being played currently, though with restrictions against out of state travel and multi-team tournaments. But that is not impacting the CIAC, which made its decision based on the makeup of its member schools.
“From the CIAC interscholastic perspective as an education-based experience, we need to look at in-person learning and the impact rising numbers have had, on our schools staying in session. That separates us a little bit from how DPH may work with youth and amateur sports outside of interscholastic athletics,” Lungarini said.
Said Shea: ”At the end of the day, the state DPH said it was OK (to play), the governor said it was OK, the CIAC said it was OK with its proposal (for winter sports). The principals said no.”
The state positivity rate has fluctuated between 4-7 percent over the last two weeks, including 5.16 percent on Tuesday, with rising cases of hospitalizations and deaths each day.
“The outlook isn’t great over the next couple of months,” Lungarini said. “So when you put all of those factors together, we want our kids to be in the classroom for instruction as much as possible and we want our communities to be safe. The board felt this was a decision that gave clear direction and also kept the safety of our school communities at the forefront.”
Lungarini said about 31,000 events between practices and games were held this fall. Data the CIAC collected showed only seven positive cases were linked back to CIAC events.
New Haven started the academic year in remote learning, had hoped to come back to the classroom in November, but scrapped those plans due to the rise of the COVID numbers in the city.
Erik Patchkofsky, New Haven’s director of athletics, said he has spoken with a number of the city’s winter sports athletes over the past couple of weeks to get a read on their feelings about a winter season.
“The overwhelming sentiment is to have some semblance of a winter season is extremely important to them,” Patchkofsky said. “With the (COVID) numbers what they are, if the CIAC said you could start the season now, how many schools would be available to play? I don’t think local health departments would think it would be safe to play right now anyways. The postponement at least gives us a chance to get the numbers down and have mitigation strategies to target to allow our kids to have somewhat of a season.”
Jonathan Law athletic director V.J. Sarullo said he “alerted our (winter) coaches right away” after receiving the email from the CIAC and sent an announcement out on the school’s athletic department social media account alerting the families as well.
Sarullo anticipates running a google meet with the winter sports parents next week. He conducted weekly google meets with parents during the spring months before and after the season got canceled.
“Ultimately, they made the right decision putting the safety of everyone at the forefront,” Sarullo said. “The news is not easy to hear, but the reasoning behind it when explained helps.”
The Southern Connecticut Conference has a previously-scheduled virtual athletic directors’ meeting on Thursday. After going over the conclusion of the fall season, it’s down to business on how to plan for a shortened winter season.
“We knew these would be different challenges for us. We are dealing with something we really can’t control,” SCC commissioner Al Carbone said. “The entire situation is different, being inside during the winter months and not being outside. … We planned for 15 games and a league tournament. We now have to see how starting in January looks in terms of a schedule. Our goal is to figure out how many games teams play and can we have a league tournament.”
The next step for the CIAC is how a January start and a possible later finish than late February will impact the start of sports being held in the Second Semester Alternate Season. Right now, that is just 11-on-11 football, which is scheduled to begin practice in February and hold games into April.
Seven-on-seven football was held this fall while independent leagues started up as well.
“We have to look at what the end dates and the tournament dates (for the winter sports), will be,” said Lungarini, who said the CIAC will continue to stay in touch with the state DPH and the governor’s office over the next couple of months if anything changes due to the pandemic.