CHESHIRE – The CIAC revealed its updated plan for fall sports on Friday afternoon, and it includes pushing back the start of the season for all sports across the board.
The fall season, originally scheduled to begin with regular season competition on Sept. 11, will now begin on Sept. 24 for all sports, and schedules will be decreased for all sports as well. The football season will now consist of a maximum of six games during the regular season, while all others will be allowed a maximum of 12.
Sept. 24 falls on a Thursday, meaning the first full slate of football games would likely be Friday, Sept. 25.
The potential fall season will also see less action throughout the week, as the CIAC has limited the amount of games or meets per week to two for every fall sport except football, which is allowed one per week. The football season will also end considerably earlier than normal, as the final day for tournament competition is now listed at Nov. 15, nearly a month earlier than the normal end date for football state championships. All other fall sports are scheduled to end tournament competition on the same date, except for cross country, which will end on Nov. 8.
Tournaments, under the new restart plan, are scheduled to begin on Nov. 2, with the last date of regular season competition being Oct. 30 for all sports except cross country, which is Oct. 29.
In addition to a decreased schedule, the options for opponents will be decreased as well. Per the CIAC’s new plan, “competition schedules should be scheduled within a region of the 10 closest schools to mitigate potential spread and maximize contract tracing capability.” As a result, schedules will be much more regionalized, and while those new schedules still need to be planned out, schools like New Britain will likely be confined to competition against closer schools like Berlin, Newington, Southington, etc.
A similar approach will be taken for postseason competition, which will also look different in 2020.
“The season will end with the best available option for tournament play within regions or leagues,” The CIAC’s statement read. “The goal is to allow as many participation opportunities as possible for all teams and schools within the challenging current circumstances, and for that reason, tournament experiences will not follow traditional CIAC fall state championship formats.”
This new “regional tournament experience,” according to the CIAC’s release, will allow fall sports teams the opportunity for two additional games/matches/meets, meaning tournaments will be much smaller than the normal format for sports like soccer, which typically have nearly 30 teams per class in state tournament play.
“The CIAC will collaborate with league commissioners, athletic directors, and coaches to develop a tournament experience during the last two weeks of the fall season,” Friday’s release read. “No team will be eliminated from competition during this experience to maximize the number of games each team will be able to play through the fall season.”
While more specifics of postseason play still need to be ironed out, the initial plan for beginning the fall season has been put in place. Per the CIAC, schools may increase current cohort sizes to 15 students beginning on Aug. 3, though it recommends that schools keep the number at the current 10 if they have found a successful practice structure for that group size. While the cohort sizes can increase next week, teams must continue with only conditioning work until the allotted dates for practices in the cohorts of 15 students, which for football is scheduled to begin on Aug. 17, and all other sports on Aug. 27. The first date for full team practices with full contact is now Sept. 11, with scrimmages allowed to begin on Sept. 18.
The CIAC also laid out specific practice guidelines for football teams, including a window of 30-minute contact drills once the full team is cleared to practice together on the designated date. Outside of those 30 minutes, teams must maintain social distance of six feet.
As for fans and spectators, the CIAC will be leaving that to the schools themselves, acknowledging that each situation will pose different challenges given school sizes, facilities, etc., but requires that each school be able to adhere to social distancing guidelines during sporting events.
“Due to the variety of fields used for interscholastic athletic competition, it is difficult to develop a one size fits all regulation,” the CIAC said in its restart plan. “Therefore, it is the CIAC’s recommendation that each school and district consider how their athletic fields will be used throughout the school year and determine the appropriateness of spectator/fan attendance at your school.”
Other precautions include limiting locker room usage and eliminating it entirely for visiting teams wherever possible. All players and coaches are required to self-screen prior to every game and practice, and face coverings are required for coaches, officials and staff, and for players whenever they are not engaging in vigorous physical activity, meaning whenever they are on the bench or sidelines. Students will also be required to bring their own water bottles, and the CIAC recommends that each school form a Covid-19 advisory committee to stay informed on the best practices during competition to reduce potential spread.
In terms of game action, there is a noticeable change on the volleyball court, as teams will no longer switch sides after every set.
The CIAC also acknowledged on Friday that like its initial plan to start the season on normal time, plans and regulations can change given the ever-evolving climate surrounding a pandemic that is still significantly impacting multiple states throughout the country.
“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. “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. Furthermore, while the fall sports committee included representation from many educational leaders, CIAC respects that a more detailed review by our exceptional education leaders may prompt changes as final preparations for the school year are made and more COVID information becomes available.”
Things can change fast for fall sports, but for now, the goal is to have a season, though it will look significantly different than any we’ve seen before in Connecticut.
“Our kids need sports…just as much as they need in-class learning,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said. “We feel it’s important to bring those experiences back to our kids.”