Given the unprecedented landscape of 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic affecting the livelihood of countless people in Connecticut and across the country, not much surprises Southington football head coach Mike Drury anymore.
So after the CIAC put out its plan to push back the start of fall sports, including football, from Sept. 11 to Sept. 24, Drury knew that the decisions regarding the football season were likely far from over, as the Covid-19 outbreak has already shown just how fluid plans need to be, as each day brings forth new health recommendations to help prevent the virus’ spread.
“Nothing surprises you right now this year with stuff going on,” Drury said. “I talked to a lot of kids who are playing at the next level, and a lot of them lost their seasons or had their careers cut short or will be playing an extra year. There are kids trying to play in college next year that might not play this fall, so nothing surprises me.”
So, Drury wasn’t taken aback when news broke on Monday about the CIAC’s football committee voting to recommend that the CIAC’s Board of Control push back the football season to spring, which would leave a nearly 15-month gap in between the start of a potential 2021 season and the last game the Blue Knights played, a semifinals loss to Darien back in December of 2019.
“I think as coaches and the guys I talk to, we've talked about this possibility and mentally prepared for it,” Drury said. “The biggest thing for us is that it's about the kids, and we want to get the kids involved. It's a massive part of their life in terms of giving them direction or if they want to play at the next level. So to us, we just want to put us in the best opportunity to play the season.”
Committees for all fall sports are meeting this week and discussing the best way to proceed with each sport, and with football being one of the high-risk sports due to the close proximity of athletes that the game demands, Drury had expected this possibility to arise, especially with other states like Pennsylvania already delaying the season until 2021.
“It's something we've heard over the past few weeks,” Drury said. “There have been a lot of ideas thrown out there lately, so we always knew there was the possibility given the direction everything is going. Obviously, we're still preparing now for football to start in September, but the football committee…they met and they put the recommendation forward and are bringing it to the Board of Control, so it's something that's being considered.”
Drury was a member of that football committee for eight years, and brought a number of recommendations to the CIAC during his time on it. Of course, none were likely of the nature of this most recent recommendation, but Drury remembers the CIAC heavily weighing each suggestion that the committee brought forth.
“There are things we recommended that they didn't go with, but that depended on the situation,” Drury said. “I think whatever information the committee brings forth is put under heavy consideration, but again, it all depends on the situation. It's going to be up to them to decide if football and whatever other fall sports get moved to the spring and how they're going to do it, so there are a lot of moving parts to it. It's our job to be prepared for whatever comes forward.”
There will be a lot for the CIAC to consider, including what will happen to other sports affected by such a drastic scheduling change. What will happen to other spring sports like baseball and track, which have a number of football players participate in under normal circumstances? Will scheduling be tweaked across the board so no seasons overlap and student-athletes can participate in their usual sports without conflict? Could Connecticut implement a plan like the one Pennsylvania is reportedly considering, where all three seasons are condensed into a mini-season window of January to June? Whatever the CIAC decides, Drury believes multi-sport athletes will be heavily considered during such discussions.
“I think people are assuming that, but that's not the direction it's going to go, at least to my understanding,” Drury said of student-athletes potentially having to pick and choose what sports to play. “I don't think the CIAC wants to pit kids up against other sports. That's not right.”
Should football be pushed into the spring, there would be a much smaller window between the end of one season and the start of another, especially since the hope would be to return to a normal fall schedule in 2021. But for football, Drury believes it can be pulled off, and whatever can be safely done to give Southington and the rest of the teams in Connecticut a chance to play should be attempted, for the sake of the student-athletes who have already lost sports since winter state championships were canceled back in March.
“I think this is a situation where we can do it,” Drury said. “Football is unique than any other sport. We don't have AAU or travel teams like other sports, so I think we really want to push for our kids to have a season whenever we can get it for them. To me, kids are involved at the high school level. It happens in the fall. Kids are going right from football to basketball or track or wrestling, and you roll right into it there.”
The Blue Knights will roll with whatever decision is made. Like many other teams, Southington is simply hoping for a chance to play, whether it’s in the currently scheduled start time of six weeks from now or a potential alternative of six months from now.
Either way, Drury and his group will be ready.
“You hope whatever decision they make comes out this week,” Drury said. “We're scheduled to start our preseason Aug. 17, so I think they're scheduled to make that decision pretty early. But if we're pushed back six months, it will just be another challenge. I've already talked to a bunch of the players about that potential...and for us we look at it as an opportunity to get even better. We lost our spring football and lost our camps this summer, and most of our passing leagues this summer. For us, it can be an opportunity to be more prepared, so we have to look at it that way.”