The longest running soap opera in state high school sports history came to a merciful and expected end yesterday. After 48 days, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference closed the door on holding a football season this fall in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Never have I been happier to have a story I’ve covered come to an end. It was like investing time in a miniseries that starts strong before quickly jumping the shark, yet regardless you watch to the end.
In retrospect, this should have all been over on Aug. 10, when the CIAC football committee voted by a 9-1 margin to move the season to the spring. There would have been an outcry, but it would have prevented the rollercoaster of hope that led to the emotional maelstrom.
The CIAC ultimately did the wrong thing for what it felt was the right season, trying as hard as possible to play football this fall. But the state Department of Public Health was never going to move off its stance of football as a high-risk sport, and despite what the amateur epidemiologists out in the Twittersphere believe, it has the scientists that are the experts.
The same mindset is why we’ve become inured to over 1,000 Amercians dying daily, where wearing a mask is more than a simple common-sense measure to save lives.
And that is the reason we saw a misplaced response yesterday. There was anger when there should have been disappointment.
The players and coaches for the most part were productive in having their voices heard and making the case for football. The group of parents untethered from rationality, a small but vocal bunch, could have learned something.
I was discussing the situation with a friend without a vested interest and who is not active on any platform of social media. Over the past weeks, after every setback to a fall season, I’ve showed him responses on Twitter. His thoughts: these people think football should be the most important item on the governor’s agenda and they act like the players are the only ones making sacrifices.
He was, of course, correct, though I am not sure social media is an accurate representation of public sentiment. But there has certainly been a vibe that only high school football players are being asked to do without. I know people in the restaurant and retail industry, just to name a couple, that will give you a relentless counter-argument and not let up.
Everyone in their own way has had to make concessions, some minor, some that are affecting livelihoods. And now everyone has been pointing fingers of blame: at Gov. Ned Lamont, at Glenn Lungarini and the CIAC, at the DPH, even at my colleagues in the media. Either you are all-in on football or you are wrong, no debate. They see this as an objective and not subjective issue. There is only black and white.
Lamont hurt the situation with head-spinning equivocating, but he has done a good job the last six months and is a reason Connecticut has among the best metrics in the country. And if the CIAC had decided to go forward with football yesterday, there would have just been more heartache when superintendents decided to follow the DPH and prevented their schools from competing.
There are inconsistencies. Why are elementary-school students playing football and St. Joseph cannot have the chance to defend a state title? With such positive metrics, if there are no spikes in the schools why not introduce football on a continued gradual basis and try to have a fall season? Football is being played in other parts of the country, mostly with success (though a lot of misinformation has distorted the numbers in some areas).
I would not have complained if there was an attempt to go forward with football. But I’m very comfortable with not rolling the dice. We are seeing a few outbreaks in areas. Several schools have had athletes test positive for COVID-19. That was expected once school started. And according to CovidActNow, the site I follow, Connecticut has dropped to “at risk of an outbreak,” the second-worst of four categories, though we are the seventh-best state at new cases per 100,000 people.
Perhaps the biggest mistake in all of this was the CIAC taking spring football off the table so early. At the very least it should be a viable option. Spring athletes lost seasons last year, but every reasonable attempt should be exhausted to try and work football into the equation. And people in this area may still see high school football played this fall outside the CIAC umbrella.
But we have no idea what the future holds. It sounds insulting to say but it seems people still need to be reminded: we are in the middle of the pandemic. It makes the calls, dictates the terms. We have not seen anything like it. There is no playbook from the past. Connecticut is one of the safest states and the experts want to be cautious and keep it that way.
I love covering high school football. I’ve missed all the work that the start of a new season brings. I should be previewing the second weekend of games today.
I also learned two days ago that a college student who worked for me tested positive for COVID-19 and is in quarantine. I want to minimize the chances it happens to anyone, including local athletes.
I will sleep comfortably with yesterday’s decision.
As for the last 48 days, I will pass on the rerun.