After a meeting with state officials that lasted nearly three hours on Friday morning, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference emerged with no final decision on the fate of high school football, which is currently still canceled.
The CIAC used the meeting to present new strategies that it believes would lower the risk of covid-19 spread, and will now wait on feedback of those strategies from the Department of Public Health.
“They do have new strategies, particularly for football, that we gave them today, so they’ll be looking at that and doing their best to get back to us in the short term, “CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said after the meeting. “They did express that they understand the urgency of this. So we look forward to hearing back from the Department of Health.”
Some of the new strategies Lungarini and the CIAC presented included new ideas for face shields and facemasks for players to wear during play, as well as further limiting the number of players and coaches on the sidelines. Up until Friday’s meeting, discussions between the CIAC and DPH were limited to mainly emails, which included recommendations from DPH to delay football until the spring, but Lungarini walked away optimistic after getting to meet face-to-face.
“I don’t think there’s been a point in time when there has ever been an adversarial type of relationship,” Lungarini said of DPH. “They’re as receptive as they’ve always been. I think what was of value today was having our own doctors answering their direct questions for the commissioner and for us to ask direct questions to their medical experts…normally it’s been a written document coming from us and written feedback coming from them, so I think having our medical experts together to have that discussion is what really gave more depth to the considerations right now.”
Despite these new efforts, DPH commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford said she would prefer to still see the sport moved to the spring, an option the CIAC announced was no longer being considered last month, after its football committee voted to recommend postponing the season to spring. As of now, acknowledging the fluidity of covid metrics, Lungarini expressed hesitation on opening the door again for football in the spring of 2021.
“Our decision on the spring is based on what we know right now,” Lungarini said. “As CIAC looks at the spring, we’re a member-driven organization and there are pathways to bring discussions back to the Board of Control. I think what’s important from the Board’s point of view in its decision to cancel is that there are so many unknowns moving forward. Not just saying that we don’t know what the metrics will be like in the spring, but also, we don’t know from now until Oct. 1 exactly where the metrics are going. We know some schools in Connecticut have had to shut down and have had some covid cases, so we don’t know what other sports will be impacted. We don’t know what winter sports would be able to get off the ground. So if you were to make a decision to move football to a defined period of time, whether it’s early next year or in the spring, you’re doing that without the knowledge of what is happening with other sports or what the covid climate is like at the time. I think it’s responsible for the board to have more information before they reconsider anything in terms of the spring with football or any other sport.”
The season has been held in limbo since DPH initially recommended the sport not be held in the fall, and as a result, players and coaches have expressed their disapproval, citing encouraging covid metrics that are among the best in the nation, while organizing peaceful protests since full-contact football was canceled. On Wednesday, nearly 1,000 student-athletes took to the steps of the state capitol in Hartford to plead for a change in decision. For now, they will have to wait at least a little longer, though Lungarini acknowledged that time is running out.
“It would have been nice two weeks ago,” Lungarini said when asked about a potential final decision on the season. “We have worked tirelessly through all of this to get our kids back to those conditioning activities. We want it to be as soon as possible. Our plan for next week is to be in small cohorts, but at the end of next week we expect to be in full team activities. So we’re starting to run out of the amount of time that is necessary for kids to be properly conditioned to safely play the game. That’s our responsibility that we have to use the information we have to make the most informed decision to give kids that final direction. We’re intent on doing that and getting the most information we can to make that informed decision.”
Lungarini said DPH also acknowledged the need for a quick decision, and hopes to have feedback soon, though he doesn’t expect that feedback to include a definitive yes or no on full-contact football this fall.
“When we get feedback, it will give the CIAC more information in terms of recommendations for the decision we have to make on whether or not we can move forward with football,” Lungarini said. “I think we’ll hear from them in the near future. I think they’ll get back to us as quick as they can. We’re all on the same page that our student-athletes and coaches deserve a definite answer on where we’re going with football.”