As some schools resumed conditioning for a football season that may not arrive, a potential timeline for that season came into focus on Monday.
CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini had a two-and-a-half-hour conference call with around 20 state coaches on Monday, Hand coach Steve Filippone said.
“He was very informative and helpful, letting us know what’s going on,” Filippone said.
Filippone said the CIAC is asking the state Department of Public Health to reconsider its recommendations that “high risk” sports like football and girls volleyball not be played in their usual forms this fall amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A reversal would allow a clock to start, under a CIAC-released revised practice calendar, leading toward games as early as Oct. 1.
“Part 2 of that, also,” Filippone said, “we as coaches agree 100 percent that the key priority right now is not playing football. The key priority is reopening schools safely.”
Filippone said he admits the odds of a full season are slim. “But it’s a breath of life. We’re not letting go yet,” he said.
Schools were allowed to resume in-person conditioning in groups of 10 on Monday after a 10-day pause for the CIAC to review the DPH’s first recommendation from Aug. 13. The cohorts of 10 are down from the original 15 to align with the DPH and National Federation of High School Association recommendations.
On Saturday, the hope is, schools could begin skills development, working on pass routes and footwork and the like.
That would go until Sept. 14, when teams could have 15 minutes of contact to teach blocking and tackling, still in small groups. The first full-team practices would be Sept. 21, two weeks into the school year, aiming toward an Oct. 1 first game.
“That’s the plan we’re beginning to go to work on right now,” Filippone said.
“Football is contingent on two things: One … It all hinges right now on DPH changing its position. And two, if COVID changes its position. At any moment, it could say, ‘I’m gonna pick my ugly head up.’ The numbers could go up and take the whole thing out on us.”
With COVID-19 cases up in recent weeks in Danbury, that city’s high school on Monday shut down its athletic program for two weeks.
With the shut down of youth sports in Danbury effective today, it has been determined that the Danbury HS Fall Sports Program will also shut down for the next two weeks. @GameTimeCT @jeffjacobs123 @nhrJoeMorelli @fciac
— Danbury HS Athletics (@ChipSalvestrini) August 24, 2020
“Obviously, these are difficult times,” Greenwich coach Anthony Morello said. “There’s no blueprint to go off of. You need to be understanding to the powers to be and those that make tough decisions — it’s not as cut and dry as normal, and you may not get information as quickly as you want.
“For a program like Greenwich that has 180 players in it, it makes things very challenging. I’ve tried to be as transparent as possible with all the families and keep them in the loop through emails and updates. The back-and-forth decisions have made things difficult on the athletes, regarding their mindset, that is the biggest problem right now.”
The situation has remained fluid. On Aug. 10, the CIAC’s football committee urged moving football to the spring. Two days later, the CIAC Board of Control voted to open on time. The DPH a day later threw cold water on that call.
After meetings last week led to reopened conditioning Monday, the Board of Control decided Sunday that, if a fall season is canceled, it won’t be made up in the spring.
“My thing is, why don’t we have an equally fluid response?” Danbury coach Augustine Tieri said.
Tieri is not alone in preferring something like Massachusetts’ model, with football slotted between winter and spring sports. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday sent guidance to his state’s governing body that would allow football to practice but not compete.
If the DPH doesn’t change its mind on full-contact football, seven-on-seven for the skill-position players coupled with some kind of competition for linemen could become the necessary-evil next step. Vermont plans to play seven-on-seven this fall.
“I have 25, 30 linemen who are varsity players alone,” Tieri said. I love those boys. I want to do something for them.”
Having us play seven on seven to replace a season is worse than replacing baseball with a wiffleball tournament. Or replacing soccer with foosball.
— Coach Ty (@CoachTy1906) August 24, 2020
“It doesn’t help my, personally, six senior linemen who’re trying to get some game film,” Filippone said, “but it’s better than nothing.”
Sagnella wouldn’t comment on how the concept of 7-on-7 specifically would be conducted (North Haven isn’t built with passing in mind), but he knows his team is behind in preparation for a season.
“I’ve been doing this for 42 years. I kind of have an idea what is required to get a team ready. No way are we in shape right now based on what we have been allowed to do since July,” Sagnella said. “We are about 25 percent along where need to be with all of the restrictions.
“It’s a high-risk game in many ways with COVID. If we play, then play football how it is supposed to be played, not in some modified version. My biggest concern is the plan to return to play may be unsafe for our players fundamentally, and ultimately, I’m the one who will have to make that recommendation (if the team is safely ready to play) as we get closer to (the season starting).”
Bridgeport and New Haven effectively opted out of full-contact football and volleyball on Aug. 14. Nonnewaug doesn’t plan to compete in any fall sport.
Not everyone had the go-ahead to resume activity on Monday. Filippone said Hand is awaiting official approval from its town task force to get to work on conditioning.
There is no conditioning allowed until we get approval from the Bristol BOE and Burlington Health district. We will keep you posted.
— BCHS Girls Soccer (@BCHSGSOCCER) August 24, 2020
North Haven returned to conditioning Monday morning. Sagnella said the team ran for an hour in social-distance fashion.
Sagnella is fine with football remaining in the fall and not being moved to the spring. He understands sacrifices have been made and seasons lost for the spring sports athletes.
“Weddings have had to be postponed. I buried my dad a couple of weeks ago (not COVID-related). Spending the last month or so in the hospital was not a good place to be isolated from his family,” Sagnella said. “I would feel bad for all of the players, especially the seniors (if the season was canceled), but I accept that football is a game of sacrifice anyways.”
David Fierro and Joe Morelli contributed to this report.