Sixty-eight days after the last FCIAC competitions were held — regional girls soccer championships — the sports schedule resumes today with the first day of winter practices. Games can begin as soon as Feb. 8, nearly two months after originally scheduled.
The buildup has brought a huge sense of temporary relief to winter athletes, except those that compete in wrestling, cheerleading and competitive dance, whose seasons have unfortunately been effectively canceled because they are considered high risk.
What happens over the next two months — the winter season can extend as late as March 28 — is of course a great unknown. There are going to be players and teams forced to quarantine due to cases of or exposure to Covid-19. It happened during a regionalized and abbreviated fall season that, all things considered, went off pretty well. Most of the issues, as expected, occurred during the final week, as the weather got colder and people were forced indoors.
Teams during the fall, save for a school or two that were more severely affected, played about the same number of games. Being confined indoors is going to make getting through a winter schedule fraught with more obstacles.
In a proposed schedule that was presented to FCIAC basketball coaches last night, teams will be split into two divisions — Bassick and Warren Harding will rejoin the league for this season — and play 12-game regular seasons. Play will be confined within divisions until the two eventual playoff winners face off for the conference title.
With one division of eight teams and another with 10, teams will have two intra-divisonal games against several opponents rather than crossing over and facing some teams they now likely will not play. Fall coaches were hoping that their postseasons would allow for regional crossover play to come as close as possible to crowning one true league champion.
It is obvious from the way the winter sports schedule is being presented the belief is it is safer to limit the number of teams exposed to one another.
One thing we will not be seeing this winter or early spring is football. The so-called alternative season was canceled last week due to scheduling constraints that were easy to anticipate. Given the projected spikes, it was difficult to see how the winter season was going to begin on time. And because they missed their entire seasons, the CIAC rightfully was going to prioritize trying to give spring sports a regular schedule.
In retrospect even a partial football season never occurred because of a confluence of misfortune. The CIAC, in its hope of trying to get the sport played in the fall, waited too long to cancel it. An earlier decision would have made it easier for the private league formed under the Fairfield Youth Football League to organize faster and play for more than a month.
The one errant decision, if you want to call it that, was not attempting to play in the fall because the metrics sat the time were low. The FCIAC would not have completed a normal season, but it would have lasted as long as other fall sports and with no bitter aftertaste.
But that was based on guidance from the state Department of Health, and there was no way the CIAC was going to go against — or should have gone against — the recommendations. Besides, there was no pandemic playbook and it is hard to fault anyone for taking a cautious track.
For a good conversation from a voice of reason with a vested interest, I recommend listening to this week’s podcast with Danbury football coach Augie Tieri.
Now comes the start of a race to get as much of the winter season in as possible. Coaches and players alike entered today with a measure of hope and excitement, just as their compatriots did four months ago for the beginning of the fall season.
How will this play out? No one knows. But a number of breakouts during the fall were directly traced back to the social activities of students. We have seen an increase in Covid cases coming off the holidays.
One thing remains true, the chances for a full season are enhanced by wearing masks and social distancing. As we have witnessed, that message cannot be hammered home enough.