The high school sports scene in Connecticut, and the rest of the country, has been in a constant state of adjustments and uncertainty since the coronavirus spread earlier this year.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference shocked the state when it became one of the first states in the nation to cancel the remainder of winter sports back on March 9, though it proved to be a move with plenty of foresight given how rapidly the virus spread in the days and weeks following that unprecedented move.
Since then, we’ve seen the CIAC hold out hope as long as it could for a spring season before becoming one of the last states in the country to cancel it entirely, and now, after initially planning to hold a normal fall season on schedule, fall sports are hanging in the balance as the CIAC aims for an Oct. 1 start date while continuing to collaborate with the Department of Public Health in an effort to satisfy DPH’s health recommendations while still being able to put together a season for each fall sport. For now, as high school sports are stuck in wait-and-see mode while continuing with low-risk, outdoor workouts, let’s look back and recount how we got here, and all of the detours along the way:
While in the midst of three straight months without high school sports, the CIAC published an 18-page document on its website, detailing guidelines for how its member schools could safely ease student-athletes into a fall season, which at the time, the organization hoped would start on time and fall sports would have a normal schedule.
“If we had a perfect scenario…if you look at fall sports schedules, none play until after Labor Day,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said the day the document was released. “So, if all goes well, fall teams could have a normal schedule.”
The document detailed sports beginning with low-risk outdoor conditioning workouts in small cohorts, and tiered each fall sport based on risk level, with football and girls volleyball being among the high-risk sports. But at the time, the plan was to move into the competition phase on Aug. 31, which would have been in the next couple of days.
Just a few weeks after fall sports teams had reunited to begin outdoor conditioning workouts, the CIAC updated its plan for the season, which included delaying the start of the season by nearly two weeks, now to Sept. 24 rather than Sept. 11. In addition, the season would also end considerably earlier than normal, with a target date of Nov. 15 being the date to conclude all tournament competition. Postseason and regular season play would be regionalized, meaning schools would only play opponents that are among the 10 closest schools to themselves. The football season would now be shrunk to six regular season games and two postseason games, while all other sports would be allowed a maximum of 12.
“A point of emphasis throughout the development of this plan is the fluid nature of planning around Covid,” the CIAC said in a press release accompanying the new plan. “While sports in Connecticut have been successfully running since late June, with Covid health metrics in our state improving along the way, the CIAC understands that education-based athletics experiences differ from club, AAU, and recreational offerings. Everyone involved in the development of the plan recognizes that it must remain fluid, and that it will be in a perpetual state of evaluation as Covid data and health metrics become available.”
“Fluid” was certainly a fitting word to use, as more changes followed shortly after.
The football season, at least for fall, was seriously put into question when the CIAC’s football committee voted 9-1 in favor of recommending that the season be moved to spring, a route that numerous other states around the country had already taken.
“All of our sports committees are meeting this week, and from those sports committees, any further recommendations would be sent to the board of control and would be considered,” Lungarini said at the time.
Football coaches and student-athletes around the area expressed disappointment in a potential longer wait to take the field again, but also were hoping for any chance to play, whatever the season.
Despite the football committee’s recommendation the CIAC’s Board of Control met and voted unanimously to go on with fall sports as scheduled, including football. But the CIAC made this decision while still awaiting guidance and suggestions from DPH, meaning things could change quickly.
“At this time, we feel the health metrics in Connecticut have not changed,” Lungarini said. “We remain committed to looking at this on a fluid basis, evaluating information as it comes in. Again, we understand our decision today at 3 o’clock that was made to move forward with fall sports as planned, including football, could change if new information comes out from DPH or other medical advisors at 5 o’clock tonight.”
The CIAC receives its letter from DPH, and it includes the suggestion that football and girls volleyball be moved to the spring, Lungarini responded by saying that the CIAC would get back together to review all of DPH’s recommendations before making any changes to its current plan.
Just days after unanimously voting to move forward with the fall season as scheduled, the CIAC announces that all in-person activity for fall sports would be put on hold while it reviewed DPH’s recommendations, leading to frustration from coaches who had been running conditioning programs with their teams for more than a month.
"This is extremely disappointing,” Southington football head coach Mike Drury tweeted in response to the news. “Our student athletes need this. We understand the difficult decisions ahead, but to take away strength and conditioning from them is not the correct course of action. It’s time to make decisions with our kids’ best interests in mind."
After meeting to revise its fall sports plan, the CIAC announced in a late-night release that it had voted to resume all fall sports activities that were currently approved by its previous plan, while adding that the season would officially start on Aug. 29 rather than Aug. 27, and while no start date was given in regards to the first games of regular seasons, it was assumed it would be a bit later than the Sept. 24 plan. It also decided that should any fall sport be deemed unsafe for fall, it would not be played at all in the academic year, meaning no football or girls volleyball in the spring.
Less than 24 hours after news broke of the CIAC moving ahead with fall sports, Lungarini stepped up to the podium in a Thursday-morning press conference to announce that while the plan was still to have all fall sports be played in the fall, the true verdict would arrive after schools opened so the CIAC and DPH could monitor how that affected Covid metrics in the state. The first day of regular season competition was pushed back to Oct. 1, the possibility of outdoor girls volleyball was shut down, 7-on-7 football was still being discussed, and the higher-risk sports for the winter season like basketball and hockey were put into question. But for now, fall sports were back in action, though they would be shut down if schools moved back into distanced learning.