Maybe just maybe by the time this edition hits the newsstands, a final decision will be made about football in the 2020-2021 scholastic calendar. The continuing saga, a bad soap opera really, has dominated the local sports pages for the better part of two months now.
This week, acting Dept. of Public Health Director Diedre Gifford reasserted her decision against full-contact football for the fall, despite game modifications and measures the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Football Committee and the Board of Control offered during a meeting last week.
Reportedly, some of the modifications included curbs to the kicking game and spacing of players, along with areas where breaks from wearing masks could take place. Despite the modifications, Gifford’s take on the sport has to do more with the blocking and tackling of the game, and what effects it will have on the spread of COVID-19. In her original objections in early August, she desired 7-on-7 games with no tackling.
Athletes from around the state protested last week, with more than 1500 wanting a season. Gifford, however, is holding fast.
The potential of a spring season – one shoehorned in March with a five-game schedule – became more of a possibility, with Gov. Ned Lamont encouraging a look into the option. The CIAC’s Football Committee voted in August for the option, but was turned down two days later by the governing body’s Board of Control.
Since then, the tug of war between state health officials and the CIAC has continued. Executive Director Glenn Lungarini has attempted to salvage a fall season at the request of his membership, but, so far, the state’s health hierarchy, in the person of Gifford, has nixed all attempts.
One of major concerns is the transmission of sweat and spittle during the course of the game. So-called “spit shields” were approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in July with states allowed to use them if they see fit.
Now the focus turns to spring with the Football Committee expected to reaffirm its support. The hope is the Board of Control will allow the possibility. But things might be taken out of the CIAC’s hands. Reports have surfaced throughout the state that some school teams and some coaches are attempting to form “club leagues” to sponsor games. These would be outside the CIAC’s control, which has determined it will not sponsor the sport in the fall (at least at its last notification on the subject).
The potential for these leagues and teams to come about have been discussed under the radar by some involved in the sport. Supposedly, teams in Fairfield and around the Hartford area are being discussed. Meanwhile, some schools have scheduled “scrimmages” for their players.
And the entire matter gets a bit fuzzy because state Phase II rules allow for youth football leagues to operate, though most throughout the state have canceled their seasons. The Southern Connecticut Pop Warner League canceled in mid-August. The other regional league, the Shoreline League, is still exploring the possibility of having a shortened season. The question is posed by football people, if youth football is allowed, why not high school? It’s a fair question.
In the summer, the American Legion’s National Baseball Committee canceled the season, but left the option open for legion posts to operate leagues in individual states, but not under the insurance plan offered by the national group. The Connecticut Elite League was formed under its own auspices to handle a shortened legion season. This seems to be the prototype some football people are looking to emulate.
But this weekend, this writer was talking to someone at a local baseball tournament. The question of how long the state stays in its current mode – Phase II – is a big topic in Hartford. We were told with some authority, the state could remain in its current status through March.
If that happens, two things are possible results: the winter season is in jeopardy with hockey and basketball certainly at risk (remember the transmission of sweat and spittle); it could also mean the cancelation of the spring football season as well. This could all be Kabuki Theater.
Unless state officials were to give some type of guarantee or good faith statement they wouldn’t oppose March football, we might be in this position again in a few months.
No one is going to give those guarantees now, it would be foolish to do so. But, there is a growing concern that the current restrictions, should they in fact go into the new year, would make interscholastic athletics a moot point until the spring…maybe.