If the folks in Washington wanted to try and solve the intractable problem of polarization in the country, they could have done worse than monitored events here over the holiday weekend.
Apparently nothing brings people together more than taking away their high school football.
After a month of players and coaches having the prospect of a football season dangled in front of them, only for it to be pulled away, then dangled again, on Friday the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference cut the string by agreeing to follow the state Department of Public Health’s recommendation not to play the sport this fall.
Fingers pointed everywhere on social media because there has to be someone to blame. Arguments ranged from the rational — why can football be played on the youth but not the high school level? — to the purely irrational — this decision should be up to the parents and I’m ready to sign the waiver.
Gov. Ned Lamont was a target for a perceived lack of leadership, though I am pretty certain high school football hasn’t been his biggest concern. And he thought enough of the protests and letter-writing campaigns, including from state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, to address the sport at this afternoon’s press conference.
Lamont discussed the prospect of playing football early next year as opposed to the fall. He also said he would be willing to meet with both the DPH and CIAC.
CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini wore a sizable bull’s-eye even though he has been the biggest advocate for the Let Us Play lobby. The CIAC went first against its own football committee, which voted to move the season to the spring, and then the DPH. You could make an argument that this was all elongated by the CIAC doing the wrong thing for the right reason, and that if this was finalized a month ago, after the football committee met, emotions would not have been toyed with.
But Lungarini also wanted clarity on why there were different rules for CIAC-sanctioned and non-sanctioned sports, and why here in Fairfield County you could watch 4th-8th graders play on Saturday afternoon.
I’m sticking to holding the coronavirus pandemic at fault. It is a cruel and deadly opponent, and sadly we aren’t waging much of a fight. It has disrupted everyone’s lives, not just high school football players. Since my profession keeps me around scholastic athletes, I feel bad for every one who has had their sports seasons disrupted going back to last March.
Right now the only question with football is weighing whether it can be played safely or if there is too great a risk of spreading the virus. So I can understand not playing football in the fall. And, given where we are in the process, it is reasonable to wonder with such positive metrics whether we could have waited two weeks into the school year to see if it would be safe to introduce football.
But DPH is not going to change its stance that the sport is high risk. And what hasn’t been discussed is many superintendents would follow the DPH and not allow their schools to participate.
Public health experts are concerned not just about the current metrics but maintaining them. According to the website run by CovidActNow.org, Vermont is the safest state in the country, the only one with an “on track to contain COVID” rating. Vermont is only allowing 7 on 7 football.
Connecticut, along with the other New England states except for New Hamsphire, fall under the second safest “slow disease growth” category. Only Maine is still considering fall football. There are 10 other states that fall under slow disease growth. Four are playing in the fall, four in the spring, one is undecided and Michigan just changed and will go from spring back to fall.
The split is not surprising considering we are dealing with chance. There is no certain path, no last pandemic to guide us.
The football players, to their credit, have been terrific in banding together to make their case with productive messaging. They will be holding a protest tomorrow in Hartford. The manner in which they have behaved so far makes you root for them.
For now we are back to where in retrospect we should have stopped after the football committee voted: looking at a spring season. The idea was taken off the table and now needs to be put back on. It certainly is not ideal and is not what many of the players and coaches are looking for.
It will be difficult to squeeze a football season into the post-winter schedule, with many obstacles not to deny multi-sport athletes from having to make another sacrifice. You do not want to take away from the spring sports that lost last season. And we don’t know what the health metrics will be in February and March.
But a schedule can be put together and the players and coaches will at least have hope to play an abbreviated season.
And this interminable emotional rollercoaster will finally come to a stop.