My Point

The CIAC Has Opened The Door For Fall Sports. It Is On Us To Help Keep It Ajar

Darien and Staples hope to renew their field hockey rivalry this fall.

Hey football quarterback, if I promised you a fall season would you be willing to wear a mask whenever being socially distanced is not possible?

To you soccer goaltender, would the prospect of a 14-game season be enough incentive to stay away from the pool parties with 30 of your friends for the rest of the summer?

And volleyball middle hitter, can you try to stay six feet away from people as much as possible so you are able to get within six inches of the net in a few weeks?

Of course I cannot give any guarantees on any of this. But I do know that taking these actions will enhance the chances that the fall season plan unveiled by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference happens.

The CIAC on Friday, despite the continued effects of the coronavirus pandemic, opened the door for hope, a season not too long for excessive risks but not too short to lose credibility. If completed, football teams will get 80 percent of a regular season, with other sports receiving 60 percent.

It’s hard to find fault with anything the CIAC has done since March, when it was the first to shut down winter sports because of the safety threat to the state’s high school athletes. It waited as long as possible before canceling spring sports. And it waited later than most states in the attempt to try and preserve some sort of fall season.

I’m skeptical we will get a complete fall season. There are just too many moving parts that need to be aligned right for it to happen. Football is going to be particularly challenging.

But right now Connecticut is one of 10 states with a “slow disease growth” ranking, the second-best of four categories in the country’s COVID Warning system. Vermont is the only one “on track to contain COVID.”

We are in good enough shape right now to give fall sports a try, with the thinnest of ropes possible. That sentiment was expressed today by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on a press briefing with Gov. Ned Lamont.

I don’t want to minimize isolated outbreaks, because one death is too costly a price. But there are going to be some cases of coronavirus, just like there will be in schools. This season will have some bumps, and the outlook a month from now when schools open will be vital.

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We can’t do what major league baseball is currently doing, and based on the past months the CIAC won’t. As Glenn Lungarini, its executive director, has stressed, this is a fluid situation that can change any time.

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We should be looking forward to a normal fall, but we have been kicking the can down the road for months trying to solve the coronavirus. Incredibly, saving lives is no longer just a humanitarian issue.

Critics of the CIAC’s plan — and there were going to be critics of any plan that deviated from a complete season — contend pushing back the start of play by two weeks will make it more difficult to get to mid-November. But the idea is to dip toes in the water before jumping into the deep end. Athletes have not had the customary level of training, so it is important to ensure that we don’t get more broken bones and other injuries instead of a coronavirus outbreak.

And just throwing a large group of athletes together from the outset would seem to be counterproductive from a safety standpoint.

The question is will athletes, now seeing a plan to get on the fields this fall, be willing to take the necessary measures. I’ve spoken to a number of athletes who played in summer leagues and said many of the safety protocols were not followed. And kids sheepishly admit that socially they have become too liberal hanging out with friends.

I get it. Everyone had been cooped up indoors for three months and felt unleashed when the weather got warm. Families needed to get away to many of the popular vacation spots in New England.

Everyone is making their own choices on risk tolerance. Some people have not been to a restaurant in four months. Others are comfortable eating indoors.

I feel much more confident about safety guidelines being followed under high school coaches, but they will only have their athletes a few hours a day.

We all want a return to high school sports. We want our routines back. But this is a public health emergency unlike any we have experienced. The coronavirus dictates terms.

It is possible athletes can lock themselves in their houses the next few weeks and external factors will take away their seasons. But it is also true basic precautions will make it more likely they will get to play their first games on Sept. 24.

Just something to think about with the start of preseason conditioning for football just two weeks away.