The CIAC’s release of fall schedules on Monday was unsurprisingly greeted with a wave of optimism. There were now tangible dates for games and a season to look forward to.
It was exactly three months ago today that the CIAC canceled the remainder of the winter season, with some sports just two games away from crowning champions.
The CIAC was pilloried for being premature and rigid in its move, only to have its foresight praised after schools shut down and it was apparent the country had a real public health issue to deal with.
After talking with CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini on Friday following the release of the guidelines for the return to sports, it is apparent that the state’s governing board for high school athletics has several priorities. One is doing everything possible to ensure that all sports get meaningful seasons at some point during the upcoming school year.
The CIAC, as in the winter, also plans on acting slower and being more restrictive than the rest of the state in the reintroduction of sports to the playing fields.
Lungarini obviously has maintained an aggressive form of due diligence in monitoring trends, noting that schools in Israel and Singapore opened and then were forced to shut down when COVID-19 cases spiked.
“Lets not go 0 to 60,” Lungarini said. “We do have time. We have three months. Lets do this right. Lets go slow at the beginning. I’m confident we will be back to playing sports in the fall in some meaningful way.”
I wonder how the going slow part will play around the state. Perhaps I’m wrong, but my sense is that the state has gone from 0 to at least 40 or 50 once Connecticut began the first phase of opening following months of quarantine.
Restaurants are crowded and students who socially were distant at the start are now taking photos in groups. Maybe they are right and it is me, with few lifestyle changes, who is being too cautious.
But you look at the numbers and many of the states that began opening on Memorial Day are now seeing spikes in numbers. The protests that followed the death of George Floyd knocked the pandemic to secondary news. The federal government no longer wants to deal with the issue.
It is like the public health issue disappeared overnight. I applaud every person that has marched across the country over the last fortnight and don’t question the risks made, but will we see an increase in COVID cases?
To use a sports analogy, the CIAC will be stepping to the plate this summer trying to face a pitch it has never seen before.
“It is important for everybody to remember that just because we are opening up and heading back to activity does not mean that COVID has gone away,” Lungarini cautioned. “COVID is still here and to date there’s still not a vaccine for it and it’s still a contagious illness. We do need to keep that in mind as we open up, we will take it slow, we will have continuous meetings throughout the summer to make informed decisions.”
Lungarini said everything is on the table when it comes to reaching the goal of having every sport played. That means a low-risk fall sport like cross country could be joined by baseball and softball.
Spring football could refer to real games, not two weeks of practice near the end of the school year. Thanksgiving games on Memorial Day?
“The importance here is providing opportunities to kids in any means we can,” Lungarini said. “That’s our goal.”
There are so many challenges ahead. What happens if any athletes become infected with the coronavirus and teams have to quarantine during the preseason or once games start? How do you account for forfeits, postponements and missed games?
What if some schools open up and others start with virtual classes. Will closed schools be allowed to compete?
Football and lacrosse are two sports in the high risk category. There are many athletes that play both. Travel may limit schedules to regional competition.
Lungarini said around Aug. 1 is when final decisions will have to be made to allow school officials and athletic directors to plan accordingly.
“We are going to stay student-centered in our decision making,” Lungarini said.
In many respects, there are as many unknowns now to factor in preparing for the fall season as there were to cancel the end of winter and the entire spring seasons.
The CIAC wants to get every game played, ideally in its customary season. But it first wants to ensure the safety of every athlete.
That is something we should all be able to agree on.