When news broke on Wednesday night of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference electing to move forward with all fall sports, starting with regular season competition on Oct. 1, the reaction across social media was mainly one of relief that a finalized plan appeared to be taking shape.
But after Thursday morning’s press conference, the outlook for the season returned to its typical clouded state, with the CIAC reminding everyone that plans can change quickly when it comes to the nature of Covid.
“’Fluid’ should be the name of the document,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said as he closed Thursday’s hour-long press conference at the CIAC offices in Cheshire.
In short, the CIAC’s plan is to indeed move forward with all fall sports, including football, beginning with practices on Saturday that will allow cohorts of 10 and 30 minutes of conditioning coupled with 30 minutes of non-contact skill work, but the picture for a potential season won’t become clear until after schools have reopened.
“We want to stress to everyone the fluidity of our plan,” Lungarini said of the plan that includes beginning moderate to high-risk workouts on Sept. 20 at the earliest. “We’ve reminded everyone that the plan will change as the metrics change, and we will continue to monitor that. The metrics could say it doesn't support moving in that direction, or it could be decided that more data is necessary to make a decision, and we've been consistent in looking at that since March.”
As for football, the plan remains to play with full squads of 11-on-11, though should the current outlook change once schools open in the form of a rise on Covid cases, that plan could change, as could the entire fall sports plan itself.
“If the metrics when we get back to school continue to be in the positive place they're in right now, can we make the decision at that time to play 11-on-11 football, which is what we want to see our kids have the experience to participate in?” Lungarini said when addressing the Department of Public Health’s recommendation to keep football in a 7-on-7 format, though Lungarini saw the recommendation as just one listed option, at least for now. “Football, unlike any other experience that we have in Connecticut, doesn't have that club or AAU experience for kids. The opportunity that they have to perform in 11-on-11, the recruiting opportunities for colleges to see, are really confined to the high school season. So if we can give the kids that opportunity for that experience, this may be the only opportunity that we have. If we can do that now when the metrics are good and support it, that's when we feel the best opportunity will be.”
Despite the current plan being full 11-on-11 football, Lungarini expressed the CIAC’s serious consideration of playing 7-on-7 if that was what became necessary.
“It's still being considered very much,” Lungarini said. “I didn't take it as them saying 7-v-7 was all we could do...but again, in football, we would like to play 11-v-11 if the metrics support it, but as we move forward, we will continue to explore meaningful moderate and low risk activities for football, as we are for all sports. Because if the metrics don't get us to that point after school as started, we want to be prepared to give our students as meaningful experiences as possible.”
Lungarini said the CIAC’s next step will be to reach out to football coaches to gauge “what the minimum number of games they would see as a value of playing” this season. With Nov. 21 being the targeted end date for football, a tentative start date of Oct. 1 could provide only a handful of games, or even less if the season is postponed further.
As for girls volleyball, DPH’s recommendation of playing the season outdoors was explored, but eventually determined to be an impossible option for CIAC’s member schools.
“We explored the outdoor option pretty significantly at this point, and it doesn't appear that outdoor volleyball will be a viable option,” Lungarini said. “After talking with coaches and the volleyball committee, very few schools right now have any sort of outdoor setup...the equity of resources is a significant issue in [playing outdoors]. We're looking at other things, like is there the potential of playing with a mask? We're talking with our medical advisors on their recommendations on masks and things we could wear.”
Lungarini also reiterated the CIAC’s consistent contact with DPH, and the efforts to align the CIAC’s plan with DPH’s guidelines as much as possible. But Lungarini did say that should DPH’s recommendations on subjects like 7-on-7 football and no indoor girls volleyball remain, the public schools would likely have to follow those guidelines.
“If we can't close that gap, I think our public schools would probably be in a position where they would likely need to follow DPH's recommendation,” Lungarini said. “If there’s no movement there, I think that's the direction this will probably flow.”
The CIAC’s decisions in the short term will likely flow into the winter, as Lungarini also stressed that Covid metrics in the state will likely not be as promising as they are now come winter, meaning many sports for those seasons could already be in jeopardy.
“If we were to say, looking at the metrics right now, under the best of circumstances, that we can't play indoor, moderate-risk sports now, or we can't play outdoor high-risk sports, then we're making the statement that in the winter we can't play indoor moderate-risk sports, and if we can't play outdoor high-risk sports, we certainly can't play indoor high-risk sports,” Lungarini said. “When we look towards the winter, basketball and hockey are high-risk on the categories. Swimming would be low-risk, and indoor track, the sport itself is low-risk, but because of the number of participants you would have in an area would increase that to a moderate-risk activity. Gymnastics...would be in that low or moderate-risk activity, but again, the number of participants and sanitizing of equipment that would go into it, that would elevate that level.
“If we were to make that decision right now that we can't play those sports under the current metrics in Connecticut right now, we would be making that decision moving essentially through our winter season.”
Despite the outlook for fall, and now winter, remaining murky, Lungarini felt it was important for the CIAC to resume low-risk workouts and practices this week, giving student-athletes a chance to be back with their teams, even if it doesn’t turn into a greenlit season. Though for now, the plan is to have a season for all sports. But as Lungarini reiterated, plans are subject to change.
“Right now, we have to look at what are the best opportunities we can provide kids today,” Lungarini said. “As we move forward, that is what the experience of Covid has been. We have to see how we progress. Right now, we want you to get with your coaches in the safest opportunity you can, and that's what we're doing right now.
“Enjoy the moment. Enjoy everything you have right now, because we learned in March...nobody knew when we headed into this that we wouldn't be back on campuses in the spring. We have to enjoy the moments and experiences we have with each other. To our kids I would say the same thing. Don't let the thoughts on what might happen tomorrow diminish what you're having today. Enjoy those moments with your coaches and peers and playing the sport you love.”