One day removed from the CIAC’s final decision that there would be no 11-on-11 tackle football this fall, coaches in Fairfield County are attempting to move forward with a plan to team up with a local youth league.
According to New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, there are still many hurdles to clear before a season becomes reality.
“It depends on where different boards of ed come down on whether they’re going to support club football or not,” Marinelli said. “Obviously, time is of the essence because we’ve already wasted all this time waiting on the CIAC.
“Once you find out whether the board of ed is going to help, then you move forward and it’s a lot easier. If not, then it’ll take some teams a little bit longer to figure it all out.”
The idea, Marinelli said, would be tied to the Fairfield County Football League (FCFL), adding a “Senior Division” to the league’s current contingent of third through eighth grade teams.
The FCFL includes eight towns, with New Canaan, Darien, Fairfield, Ridgefield and Westport entering their third week of youth games. Norwalk and Wilton are following the DPH guidelines and not playing, and Stamford shut down in August.
Greenwich, another FCIAC school, is in the town-wide Greenwich Youth Football League.
The FCFL’s Senior Division could include other FCIAC towns, as well, according to Marinelli.
“In an ideal world, they’d like to see every school that’s in the FCIAC participate,” Marinelli said.
The CIAC said in its cancellation announcement that it would recommend “low and moderate-risk football activities” for state teams. Ideas floated for those modified activities have included lineman challenges, combines and 7-on-7, passing-style non-tackle football.
The CIAC football committee held a short meeting Thursday with nothing substantial coming out of it. The next steps for fall football activities, even those not trying to play 11-on-11, may be up to schools and local districts.
Marinelli said the senior teams would follow the COVID protocols the FCFL already has in place. Players would not travel to games on buses, instead having parents drive athletes to games, and would not use locker rooms because of social distancing concerns. He also said the expectation is players would be tested at least once per week.
Having the FCFL oversee the Senior Division would put the teams under the umbrella of a private organization, but Marinelli said ideally, teams could practice and play with the support of local school districts.
That club option, which some schools have used for sports such as rowing, rugby and girls ice hockey, would need approval by local school superintendents and boards of health.
That model would face several obstacles, such as equipment use and liability costs.
Danbury’s youth football teams play in the Southern Connecticut Pop Warner league, which canceled its season in late August. Adding football as a club sport at the school would be difficult, according to athletic director Chip Salvestrini.
“I think club is going to be a stretch for us,” Chip Salvestrini said. “We’re surely going to address it with our superintendent. He’s aware of it and we’ll talk to him about it, but my feeling is I’m not sure that’s a direction we’re going to be able to go.”
Staples athletic director Marty Lisevick said the idea of playing football as a club sport was “not well received by the superintendent or principal.” He cited liability issues and said “I don’t know of any FCIAC school that will take that one on.”
Lisevick said Staples will play 7-on-7, if offered, and possibly allow kids to play 11-on-11 football through the Westport PAL program.
Equipment costs are also a big part of the equation.
“No part of the cost is going to come from the athletic department,” Norwalk athletic director Doug Marchetti said. “So the brunt of the cost is probably going to fall on the athlete and the family. The devil’s in the details.”
“The big issue is how kids get access to equipment,” Lisevick said. “Town attorneys balked at having schools leasing helmets and pads due to possible liability.”
“The biggest issue before anything else is how we get these kids to wear the best equipment,” Salvestrini said. “That’s not to say they can’t go out and purchase their own, but when you have 40 different kids from all dynamics, some can afford it, some can’t, some will end up with junk and some won’t.
“That’s not a good thing for anybody.”
Bridgeport’s school administration announced last month that it wouldn’t participate in full-contact football regardless of the CIAC’s decision, leaving Central out of the picture.
— Scott Ericson contributed to this story