Last week high school athletes felt like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, while various elements of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference were Lucy, pulling it away at the last moment.
Over a five-day span, the future for a fall sports season took dramatic turns. The week started unassumingly, with the go-ahead for the abbreviated and regionalized plan the CIAC put forth on July 30, which would give football players 80 percent of a regular season; 60 percent in other sports.
It is a reasonable plan, with incremental advances in the number of team members together.
Then a week ago the CIAC football committee voted to move the sport to the spring, an unexpected move that sent panic about the future of all fall sports and drove mostly parents to social media with both pragmatic and emotionally outlandish arguments.
On Wednesday the CIAC Board of Control, which ultimately makes final decisions about changes with sports, had another surprise with a unanimous vote to stick to the plan to play all sports. Less than 24 hours later the Department of Health sent a letter to the CIAC recommending moving football and girls volleyball to the spring and having a delayed start with the other sports.
Finally, on Friday, the BOC punted. It opted to put off a final decision until getting input this week from the DOH regarding its guideline.
It gave everyone associated with high school sports in the state a case of whiplash. Worse, it toyed with the emotions of teenagers already dealing with concessions. Everyone is ultimately concerned with the physical health of the athletes, but it is time to also take their mental health into consideration.
While, as CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini has continued to stress, this is and will remain a fluid situation, the Board of Control has to make a final decision as soon as possible about whether to stick with the CIAC’s plan or not. And since school districts ultimately can decide to prevent their athletes from competing, if they intend to do so they need to make their intentions known now.
The rumor is a lot of superintendents across the state are not happy with playing sports. They cannot let the CIAC allow the fall season to go forward and then dash the hopes of their students one final time. Though they aren’t happy, at least athletes from Bridgeport schools have closure on their status.
The CIAC had done a masterful of handling the coronavirus pandemic since its decision to cancel the end of the winter season. But this past week was a major setback. Especially disappointing was having the Board of Control vote come before the letter of recommendation was received from the Department of Health.
Never mind that league commissioners and athletic directors need to continue with their planning if there is going to be a fall season. Just as administrators are trying to decide what is in the best safety interest of athletes, they have to realize the constant changing and delays are extremely unfair to them.
So should there be fall sports? Ultimately, as much as everyone has their list of points, there are no right answers. We know the health metrics today, but we don’t know if they will change next week or next month. We certainly don’t know if they will be better in six months, presumably when a postponed fall season would start.
New Jersey opted today to go forward with a fall season even if a number of schools will be conducting remote learning. A strong argument can be made that there is a lower risk playing sports outdoors than holding classes indoors. That will be the contention of parents that have had their kids involved with summer play in a number of sports completed without incident.
But education is obviously of paramount importance. Many schools will welcome students or at least hold some sort of hybrid learning. Since we don’t know what will occur in the classrooms, let’s wait and see what happens the first two weeks.
If there are no outbreaks, extracurricular activities can be introduced. In the meantime, coaches can monitor the informal training of athletes, similar to what teams were doing at the start of the spring before it was known the season would be canceled.
Teams could then start cohort conditioning and move to formal preseason practices. Start the season at the beginning of October, a week later than currently planned.
You could then have seven weeks of play. It is almost as good as the original plan by the CIAC, and that initial delay either might enhance the chances of completing a fall schedule or for safety reasons keep it from getting started and postponing to the spring.
As for football, the highest-risk sport, I am skeptical we are going to see play on any level. That’s just my feeling. But if after the two-week period we are still in a safe place, I am OK with giving it a go.
I won’t complain with postponing the fall season, making sure we stay safe and hoping to have spring football, soccer and other sports. We are flying without a radar, which is why there is so much uncertainty from the decision-makers.
But we are playing with the fragile mindsets of high school athletes who deserve a final gameplan. Since nothing has changed since July 30, stay with the original plan and lets welcome athletes for conditioning in cohorts on Monday, knowing school outbreaks mean the end of the season. Or follow the Department of Health and move football and volleyball to the spring and hold off on the other sports.
But make a decision. Now.