My Point

An Issue With No Right Answer: CIAC Taking Hit For Member Schools

There is nothing — NOTHING — that turns people in this state more apoplectic than the cancellation of high school sporting events. If a football game gets postponed because of an anticipated weather episode, watch the venom spew on Twitter.

If the weather event never happens, don’t even look.

So you can imagine the reaction when the CIAC announced this morning that it was cancelling the rest of all state tournament play as a precautionary move due to the coronavirus.

No basketball at Mohegan Sun. No hockey at Ingalls Rink. No swimming at the Yale pool.

The reactions have ranged from the understandable, a petition started by a 2019 Fairfield Prep graduate that as I write this has reached close to 40,000 signees, to the absurd, granting a fifth year of eligibility to affected seniors.

At the same time the occupant of the White House is getting pilloried for not taking the threat seriously, the CIAC is under attack for overreacting. Right now a Wilton man, the first person in the state to test positively for COVID-19, is in a medically induced coma at Danbury Hospital.

So what is the correct answer? There is none. Doing nothing is the negligent course. Can you really blame an organization for erring on the side of caution with a virus that has the potential for unknown cost to human life just to crown 10 state basketball champions?

And the CIAC is taking the hit for responding to the actions of its member schools, which have really dictated the decision. Norwalk’s superintendent decided yesterday that all city schools would no longer participate in the playoffs going forward. The McMahon-Norwalk hockey team would have forfeited its Division III quarterfinal game. Had the Norwalk girls basketball team defeated Newtown in yesterday’s Class LL quarterfinal, it too would have forfeited.

A number of athletic directors I spoke to today agreed they are in the middle of an untenable situation and they feel relieved to no longer carry the burden.

One of the solutions that appears simple enough is to play the games in front of no fans. The issue is a lack of venues. An increasing number of schools that had made their gyms available to host neutral site games have pulled out. I asked the CIAC this afternoon if a site had been decided on for the Staples-Greenwich Class LL girls basketball semifinal that would have been played Friday. There had not, but I was told three schools set to host games in the sport took their venues off the list.

School districts are taking different degrees of aggressiveness dealing with the threat. Can any really be faulted for their policies? Towns that are not cancelling classes are understandably taking a different stance with letting athletes from other schools come play in their gyms.

This is a microcosm for society. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders called off campaign stops tonight. The Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Some NCAA men’s basketball tournament venues may not allow fans. The response from critics is what about the NBA, what about Broadway shows or art museums?

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There is not one universal body making the calls. Some are more cautious than others. Can anyone say definitively which is correct?

Criticism of the CIAC usually starts with decisions perceived to be dictated by financial considerations. And no one has been more critical than me, with the possible exception of the New London Day’s Mike DiMauro, about the format for the state basketball tournaments. Especially 10 champions.

The basketball finals is a huge money-maker the CIAC will no longer have.

My sentiment right now is sadness over anger. Sadness for all the athletes that will no longer get to chase their dreams. Seniors that are seeing their careers coming to premature ends, not in victory or defeat.

I cannot imagine the feeling, though this is a favorite time for the media as well. Now no Staples-Greenwich III. No more boys basketball games. No more road to The Whale, where there were several FCIAC schools with realistic state title hopes.

No more games for a month.

The athletes and coaches have it much worse, and I can only guess the hurt. But there are different CIAC members schools right now with varying agendas, so I’m just not sure the emotions are being channeled correctly. The fault is not the CIAC’s, but defining how much precaution is needed for an indefinable health issue.

If the decision is to play it safe, I guess I can live with that.

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