What Steve Filippone wants, the Hand football coach said Friday, is for every football team to get its seniors together, despite that their season ended before it began, and post a video of them on social media.
And that’s when his voice caught.
“Every other sport, senior athletes have an opportunity to play somewhere else. There’s no men’s Friday-night football league where men put on shoulder pads and beat each other up,” Filippone said. “There’s no regional travel football. A senior gets the news we got, and he’s done.”
But even before the CIAC announced Friday morning that it would follow the recommendations of the Department of Public Health, declining to offer 11-on-11 football in the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those around the game were considering the next step.
Some, like Connecticut Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin), wanted to push to change that decision and play in the fall. (Aresimowicz isn’t disinterested: He’s Berlin’s football coach, too.)
Filippone is among those who want to try to play in the spring to “Send Off Our Seniors,” holding an abbreviated schedule that doesn’t need to interfere with a full winter or spring sports schedule.
Filippone’s proposal would begin preseason workouts on Feb. 22, as winter sports move into the postseason. Teams would play four games and a “championship” matchup in mid-April, only a little shorter than the six-game regional schedule that the CIAC’s revised plan had set for this fall.
Spring sports would begin April 16 and, essentially, finish three weeks later than usual, getting in a full season. The 2021 football season would then begin Sept. 24 for extra recovery time.
“We may only be able to play nine games, with a bye and the playoffs,” Filippone said, “but that’s a small price to pay to get our seniors in 2021 to be able to play five games.”
Filippone said he hadn’t spoken with Ledyard athletic director Jim Buonocore, a member of the CIAC football committee, but Buonocore was already talking with others about a similar idea.
“Certainly, it would be a shortened season that could fall in a timeline between the winter and spring. It’s certainly doable and feasible, in my mind, if the (COVID-19) metrics support the sport being played,” Buonocore said.
“(The ECC’s) plan is to put it in between winter and spring so our kids don’t have to choose between them. …You’re talking about a small/medium-type of school league. We rely on the multiple-sport athletes.”
Filippone, who returned to Hand this year after retiring in 2016, said he’s getting in contact with coaches to gain their support. It would then go to the football committee, which on Aug. 10 voted to recommend a spring season. The committee could then send it onto the CIAC Board of Control, which on Aug. 12 rejected spring football to pursue a fall season.
“What we need the CIAC to do is find us 11-on-11 spring football,” Danbury coach Augustine Tieri said. “All their energy and focus should be on that. I believe in my heart (CIAC executive director) Glenn Lungarini fought for us throughout.”
At a press conference in Cheshire on Friday, Lungarini said one concern about moving football to the spring was, if a normal fall season followed, it could be too much. There were concerns of overuse injuries for multi-sport athletes as well, compressing three seasons into six months.
“The clearest direction we can give based on the evidence is that if we don’t play this fall when the metrics (are good), there is nothing to say it will be better to play in the spring right now,” Lungarini said.
Aresimowicz wouldn’t mind moving football to the spring but only after exhausting every chance to play this fall.
He said he has talked with legislators on both sides of the aisle and with Gov. Ned Lamont, hoping to get the CIAC’s decision reversed.
“The Department of Health absolutely blew this. If I was on the sidelines and made some of the calls that they did, I’d expect to be fired,” Aresimowicz said. “I feel as though they made a decision and just backed that decision and just doubled and tripled down on it.
“(Lamont) understands it. He has empathy towards it. He’s just going by what his professional health department says. I would just say to at least give us a chance. If a spike happens, the majority of people in Connecticut knows we need to shut it down.”
If there is no CIAC season, some players could look to go elsewhere. Bloomfield quarterback Daron Bryden is among those gone already; he moved to Oklahoma.
“We are going to lose kids after this,” Stamford coach Jamar Greene said. “Our really serious athletes will probably look to go somewhere else next year where they can reclassify. Not just seniors but juniors and sophomores who are missing the year, too.”
DPH seized in its letters to the CIAC on the idea of 7-on-7, which has become a staple of summertime passing work in the past 20 years or so, as a lower-risk alternative to the full-contact game. That idea remains wildly unpopular in the actual football community.
“We are either all in or all out, but we can’t tell our senior linemen that the skill guys can play but you can’t,” Greene said.
“Is 7-on-7 really safer than 11-on-11? They are still throwing the ball, and there is still contact.”
Lungarini said neither his organization nor the National Federation of State High School Associations saw 7-on-7 as a replacement for normal football.
“I am hopeful and optimistic that we will come up with, the coaches, the athletic directors and the football committee, a number of low- to moderate-risk activities that don’t present any more danger than a soccer or field hockey game would present to engage our kids in football,” Lungarini said.
One thing that seemed clear Friday was that coaches didn’t plan to go quietly into winter.
“We took that six-game regional schedule on the chin and said, ‘OK, thank you, we’ll work within those parameters,’” Bunnell coach Ty Jenkins said. “They suspended (the start of practice) for a week … and coaches said ‘fine.’
“We need to stop saying ‘OK’ and say ‘this is what we need.’ … It’s no longer ‘it’d be nice to.’ The kids need to.”
Until decisions come down, those kids remain in sporting limbo.
“I think the thing that is going to hurt them the most,” Xavier coach Andy Guyon said, “is (watching) the other states play high school football on ESPN.”
Sean Patrick Bowley, Scott Ericson, Jim Fuller, Joe Morelli and Pete Paguaga contributed to this report.