Football

CIAC Reaffirms Decision To Cancel Fall Football Season

New Canaan and Darien squared off last year in the annual Turkey Bowl.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s Board of Control, in a meeting moved up a day, voted this morning to reaffirm its decision to cancel the fall high school football season, maintaining its position from 12 days ago to follow the state Department of Public Health’s recommendation not to play the sport as scheduled because it falls under the high-risk category because of COVID-19.

The board did agree it would consider allowing competition at a later time for a sport that cannot hold its regularly scheduled season, such as football, provided it does not negatively impact spring sports.

“CIAC made every effort to weigh all factors in this decision, including the passionate voices of students, parents, and school personnel, and ultimately made the determination to align its decision with the recommendations of the Governor’s office and DPH to not hold high-risk sports at this time,” CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said in a press release. “In conversation with other state associations across the country, it was clear that a key factor in playing interscholastic football was alignment with the opinion of their state’s governor and state health agency.”

Lungarini said efforts were exhausted to try and lessen the severity so that football could have a categorical change.

“After consulting with DPH and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), it was apparent that CIAC’s football plan, though endorsed by the CSMS Sports Medicine Committee, will not sufficiently mitigate the risk to lower the categorization of the sport from “high risk” to “moderate risk,” the CIAC said in its statement. “DPH encouraged CIAC to seek affirmation from the NFHS that its proposed mitigating strategies would meet the standards required to recategorize football from its classification as high risk. CIAC immediately consulted with the NFHS which responded by stating that, “As each state association has its own SMAC and state department of health/health agency, the NFHS SMAC will not exercise approval or disapproval of individual state guidelines.”

The decision came as no surprise given the CIAC’s initial decision on Sept. 4. The state’s governing board made several attempts at modifications that might convince the DPH to change football’s status to a moderate risk sport, which would have allowed for a fall season.

But the DPH has been consistent with its position throughout the process.

It was expected that if the CIAC decided to go forward with a season, many superintendents would have followed the DPS and not allowed their schools to participate.

A small window of hope developed a week ago, after a protest in Hartford that attracted a crowd of over 1,000, mostly players.

In a subsequent interview, Gov. Ned Lamont maintained that football should be postponed until the spring, but at the same time suggested that the CIAC and DPH meet last Friday to see if there could be a compromise.

Eighteen states have postponed or canceled football. Michigan and Delaware have recently reversed from postponing the season to going forward this fall. New Hampshire and Maine are the only New England states currently playing.

Lungarini noted during a press conference this afternoon efforts being made in some areas to form private or club leagues. There is one under way that would involve FCIAC schools and players. Lungarini said the CIAC had a concern based on economic disparity.

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“We do feel that the inconsistency in what is recommended for interscholastic versus non-interscholastic sports does promote an inequity in sport opportunities for kids that can afford to potentially go play and pay for that experience may have an opportunity while others that can’t pay for that won’t is a concern of ours as well,” Lungarini said.

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Lungarini said any players that take part in a fall club season would be eligible to play this spring if CIAC-sanctioned football is offered.

Lungarini said a spring football season will be explored, but stressed that the CIAC does not want to have a negative impact on traditional spring sports that were canceled last spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lungarini was asked during the press conference to address the inconsistency pointed out by many of youth football leagues being able to play this fall.

“The response has been more we asked for a recommendation on football so they gave us their recommendation on football,” Lungarini said of the DPH. “So I can only conclude from that is maybe the other groups haven’t asked for a recommendation.”

The final decision today ends a rollercoaster process that started back on July 31, when the CIAC first introduced its plan for an abbreviated and regionalized fall schedule, and had various twists as decisions were made that alternately made the prospect of a fall football season change from probable to unlikely, often days apart.

On Aug. 10, the CIAC football committee voted 9-1 to postpone the football season to the fall. In a surprise move, the board of control two days later moved to go forward with the season. Two days after that, the CIAC decided to pause preseason conditioning to meet with the DPH, which advised that both football and girls volleyball get pushed back to the spring because they were high-risk sports.

On Aug. 27 the CIAC revealed a revised fall schedule, pushing the starting date back two weeks. But the DPH did not move off of its position and the CIAC called off the football season on Sept. 4.

That prompted pleas from players on social media, petitions, letter-writing campaigns and, finally, the protest last Wednesday.