Last Friday, the Connecticut football community anxiously anticipated the outcome of a meeting that could have decided the fate of high school action in 2020.
Some of the ideas were new, but it appears likely the final conclusion will remain unchanged. Traditional tackle football will probably not be played in Connecticut this fall.
After a three-hour discussion at the State Capitol on Sept. 11, in which the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference presented new strategies on how to lower the risk of playing football, the state Department of Public Health, noting that the effectiveness of those strategies is not yet known, reiterated its stance that football is high-risk and would be better played in the spring.
“What they presented were some new strategies that may reduce the risk of droplet spread and transmission of the virus,” said DPH Acting Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford. “I will say, and the CIAC acknowledged, these strategies are not proven. We just don’t know whether they will they reduce the risk of transmission by a little, a lot or not at all.
“I think the idea of pushing high-risk sports off until we have better data about whether these strategies will work is a good idea and we would encourage the CIAC to continue to consider a later season for fall football,” she added.
Gifford and Paul Mounds, chief of staff to Gov. Ned Lamont, also pointed to this week’s rise in state COVID-19 numbers, particularly among the 10-25 demographic.
“That, combined with going into schools, going into colder weather, the onset of the influenza season, continues to lead the Department of Public Health to say that high-risk activities really should be avoided at this point in time,” Gifford said.
That has been the steady take of the DPH on football, and it’s what prompted the CIAC to cancel the 11-on-11 tackle season two weeks ago.
At the latest meeting, which was called by Lamont after approximately 1,200 people showed up for a “save the season” rally at the Capitol last Wednesday, CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini submitted new safety options. These included using face masks and face shields on helmets, limiting the number of people on sidelines, personal water bottles and designated areas for players to take their helmets off and have a breath.
The CIAC also discussed the idea of making changes to kickoffs and punt rules. The CIAC will now await a formal detailed response by the DPH before making its next move.
“We came into today’s meeting with some new strategies to hopefully further mitigate the perspire of droplets,” said Lungarini. “We presented them to the Commissioner and look forward to her feedback.”
Lungarini said the Governor’s office and DPH were very open in their discussions and added that they were gracious with their time. While DPH didn’t give a specific time on when to expect feedback, Lungarini feels the response time will be relatively short given the fact that teams are practicing right now.
“They recognize that their is urgency to this (process),” said Lungarini.
Lamont has said that the decision to play football will be made by CIAC, but Lungarini has stated on multiple occasions that it is important for member schools to have a plan that aligns with DPH, so that school superintendents don’t have to choose which recommendations to follow.
In the current fall plan, all sports teams are allowed to practice in non-contact cohorts of 10 athletes through Sept. 20. At that point, the CIAC believes there will be enough data from in-person school instruction to see if the process can move to full-team practices starting Sept. 21. The regular season would begin on Oct. 1.
“The latest date we would like to have a (football) plan would be Sept. 20, but we hope to hear back sooner than that from DPH,” Lungarini said.
Delaying football to late winter or early spring is a tack 18 other states have taken, including neighboring New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Maine, in a decision made Thursday, became the latest to delay.
The CIAC, however, is not inclined to do that. On Aug. 12, the CIAC Board of Control rejected a spring season recommended by the CIAC Football Committee. On Aug. 23, the CIAC announced that no sport in the 2020-21 academic year would be moved to a different season if it was canceled.
The CIAC’s rationale: with Connecticut’s COVID-19 numbers so low, now is the best time to play because the health metrics may not be as good later in the school year.
“We talked about that a little bit today, too,” Lungarini said Friday. “We expressed the concern that our board had in making a decision like that now. Once we know what sports are going to be affected in the winter and spring, there will be time for proposals. I’m sure that our board would give their due diligence at that time.”
While he did not attend the football rally in Hartford, Lungarini saw footage of the event on television and said that he recognizes the passion for the sport among its players.
“I want to commend the kids on the way they spoke and handled themselves,” said Lungarini. “They talked not about wins and losses, but what the game means to them and being around each other.”