There will be no alternative football season played this spring, the CIAC’s Board of Control ruled during its Thursday meeting. CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini announced the move during an online press conference to release the CIAC’s 2021 winter sports plan.
After officially canceling the 2020 fall football season due to its status as a “high risk” sport, on Sept. 29 the CIAC announced plans for an alternative football season.
That was two months before the CIAC announced it would be postponing the winter season into January, following state guidance.
Now, with a state moratorium on the playing of high risk sports until after the end of the winter season on March 28, and the Board of Control’s determination to conduct a full spring season, the window of opportunity to conduct an alternate football season was deemed too narrow.
“Because we have not had the ability to play sports across the state until January 19, that significantly reduces the time frame in which we could hold that alternative season,” Lungarini said.
“We certainly understand and empathize that those athletes that would have been able to have some sort of competition in that alternative season will not be able to have that competition.”
The CIAC canceled the entire 2020 spring season on May 5, just two months into the COVID-19 pandemic in Connecticut. Because of that lost season, Lungarini said, the CIAC is determined to play a full schedule in 2021. The spring season is scheduled to begin practices on March 29 and games by mid-April.
That would leave an alternative season just two full weeks to prepare and play games, which the Board determined was logistically impossible, Lungarini said. He noted that 38 percent of football players also play a spring sport. The Board of Control didn’t want to force players to choose.
“It would create a conflict there,” Lungarini said, especially for smaller schools with a limited number of athletes.
The decision drew another round of frustration from head coaches, players and parents across the state, who appeared to be stunned by the sudden announcement. A number of coaches and players took to social media to declare that the state’s leadership had failed them.
“Being a senior whose feelings were crushed when my season got canceled in the fall, I was working so hard to prepare myself for spring, just for it to get canceled again?!” Tweeted Noah Charron of Fitch. “I feel sick.”
“I am saddened and ashamed to have to tell our players that they will have no opportunity to practice or play for this entire school year,” Hand coach Steve Filippone wrote on Twitter. “To Seniors in every program I am truly sorry.”
“My heart is broken,” Tweeted Alicia Robertson, whose son, Brian, plays at St. Joseph. “For my senior captain son and all players, parents and coaches. To be stripped of this, when in these challenging times our kids could sure use sports as a distraction. It was so unfair to watch other sports play and kids get their recognition.”
For Danbury coach Augustine Tieri, while sudden cancelation was a shock, the decision wasn’t.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say we weren’t skeptical,” Tieri said of the promise of a spring season. “But all we’ve done is follow the rules. At some point we had to have faith in the leadership that they’d be able to deliver.
“I think I speak for everybody that we’re proud of our kids, the way they handled it, who genuinely did everything they were asked. Unfortunately, our leaders couldn’t deliver on it. I think they could have determined this five months ago.”
The CIAC originally had a plan to play at least six games this fall alongside 35 other states. The Board of Control approved that plan in August.
But the state Dept. of Health issued a strong recommendation against playing football. The CIAC officially canceled the 11 vs. 11 season in September and sanctioned a lower-risk 7-on-7 option, which many programs and leagues conducted.
It was only after pressure to find a solution that the CIAC announced an alternative season in the spring, joining 14 other states, nationally.
But Lungarini said on Thursday that recent guidance from the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations deemed that states planning on playing an alternate spring football season would likely have to reduce games in the fall because of its policy on concussion and contact within a calendar year.
“Considering the impact that playing any games this year would negatively impact the following year when we anticipate being able to have a full fall season next year, was also a significant consideration by the Board today,” Lungarini said.
Others — like Tieri — scraped together independent football teams and played as many as four games before the state shut down all high risk sports as a new COVID-19 surge emerged in the fall.
Tieri said his independent team — which, unlike many, was supported by the Danbury High School administration — had no incidents of COVID-19 during its month-long existence. That, along with encouraging reports from other states that played football this fall, proved the sport could have been played in Connecticut, Tieri said.
“I’m grateful we had a chance to play and I appreciate that the CIAC left the door open for it to happen,” Tieri said. “But it’s unfortunate that a lot of other kids didn’t get to experience that.
“There were a lot of failures of leadership across the board. There was a lack of a consistent message. All the professional leagues all found a way. The collegiate teams found a way. Other states across the country found a way. The overarching thing was more people tried not to play football than tried to play football. If we wanted to play safely we could have found a way. I don’t think enough people wanted to find a way.”