The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference will take this week to finalize its latest plan for the return of high school sports, and executive director Glenn Lungarini confirmed that the CIAC’s current plan includes pushing back the start date for fall sports by one week.
The CIAC’s initial plan, which was released at the end of July and included a Sept. 23 start date for regular season competition, has been adjusted to Oct. 1, with the end of the season being pushed back as well. Instead of a Nov. 15 ending, the CIAC is planning on ending the fall season on Nov. 22.
The CIAC sent out those plans to high school coaches on Monday afternoon.
“Our conversations with [the Department of Public Health] have been taking place over the last month,” Lungarini said. “An area we've agreed upon since the start is having a two-week timeframe from schools getting back on campus to bringing teams together as a full team is necessary to gather data on the impact of schools reopening. A number of school districts have pushed their opening to Sept. 8 or later. So, our original date of Sept. 11 and getting teams together as full teams would have been about two weeks after schools started...that's no longer the case.”
The most recent update from the CIAC came on Sunday night after its Board of Control met to discuss its latest talks with the Department of Public Health, which had recommended high-risk sports like football and volleyball be pushed to the spring, and other sports wait to begin until two weeks after schools reopened. Sunday’s update called for the resumption of outdoor conditioning workouts as early as Monday, and non-contact skill work beginning on Saturday.
“It looks like from the CIAC's perspective is that we're gonna go,” Southington football head coach Mike Drury said. “I know they're presenting that to the Department of Health, so I'm sure there will be some back and forth on it, but I'm sure their plan is to move forward with what they have.”
Part of that plan for the CIAC is nixing the possibility of playing fall sports in the spring. The organization’s football committee recommended the sport be pushed to the spring, but the Board of Control unanimously voted that the season remain in the fall. But the Department of Public Health has stood pat on its belief that sports like football and girls volleyball need to be adjusted to maximize safety, and in a letter to the CIAC, suggested options such as 7-on-7 football and outdoor play for girls volleyball, according to a Hartford Courant report.
“We didn't take that as they recommended that those particular options be implemented,” Lungarini said. “When they wrote their letter, they suggested that we explore options that would reduce the risk for football and girls volleyball. I didn't take that as that's what they were directing. They were just trying to be detailed and helpful in examples that maybe could lower the risk.”
Drury hopes that those recommendations remain as such, and don’t have to become a reality.
“It's definitely not football,” Drury said of 7-on-7 play. “It's part of our process and training in the offseason, but to me, it would really hurt a lot of kids in every program. The linemen, those are the guys that work the hardest every single day, and how good we are is determined by how good they are. I hope they determine that that's not an option.”
For now, the CIAC is keeping all options open, even if it means drastically changing how the sport is played. But those types of decisions will wait until more discussions are had with DPH.
“I think everything would be considered, and certainly everything is an option,” Lungarini said. “But before we move in that direction, [DPH] mentioned later in the letter that there would be conversations in the coming days about the inconsistency for interscholastic sports and what is currently allowed in phase two of Governor Lamont's reopening plan for club and youth sports. So, I think the first discussion that we need to have and come to a conclusion on is in the governor's reopening plan for phase two, high-risk sports were able to compete as of July 6. Having a conversation and understanding how this would be in better alignment is the next step for us to understand with each other.”
The CIAC’s update on Sunday night once again noted the fluidity of the situation, and that things can change if the Covid-19 outlook in Connecticut changes, but its statement on not considering moving fall sports to spring seemed rigid, which Drury hopes can change should the outlook for fall change.
“They believe that right now is as good as it's going to be,” Drury said. “They don't know what it's going to look like in the spring...I think that's kind of their thought process behind that. Again, it's a very fluid situation, so my hope is that if something were to happen that they would look to maybe make an addendum to that decision. If for some reason there was no other option than to move it to spring, I hope that would be an option, but right now the data looks very good.”
For now, the CIAC has a plan, and specific dates, to begin a shortened fall season. But that plan can change after further discussions with DPH, leaving coaches and players waiting for the next update.
“You get an update, and there's a lot of questions that go into each one,” Drury said. “That's how it's been. As coaches and players, we haven't had all of the questions answered. But there's a lot that goes into it and they're working very hard. There are a lot of decisions to be made, but a lot of questions that come with each one. We hope those can get answered and we could move forward with the best interests of our student-athletes in mind.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org