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Football On The Shelf Yet Again As CIAC Reverses Course

Football On The Shelf Yet Again As CIAC Reverses Course

Traditional 11-on-11 tackle football will not be played this fall in Connecticut. Girls volleyball will, but with players wearing masks.

The CIAC’s Board of Control voted Friday morning to pull the plug on a full-contact football after the state Department of Public Health, in a Thursday letter, reiterated its stance against higher risk sports such as football and indoor volleyball being played this fall.

A solution was found for volleyball, but not for 11-on-11 football.

“Without DPH support, the CIAC cannot move forward with a full contact season as it would place superintendents and boards of education in the impossible position of acting against the recommendation of a state agency,” the CIAC said in a statement.

The CIAC will look for alternatives for football. The DPH has recommended the 7-on-7, non-tackling version seen in summer passing leagues and being played this fall in Vermont.

“The CIAC will collaborate with athletic directors, coaches, and medical experts to provide football players with meaningful low to moderate risk fall activities,” the CIAC stated.

As for volleyball, the DPH was recommending the game be moved outdoors. The CIAC found that unworkable for safety and equity reasons. The solution was keeping the game indoors with players wearing masks.

“The CIAC and its medical experts believe that the modification of wearing masks mitigates the risk expressed by DPH and provides a safe indoor environment for the sport of volleyball,” the CIAC stated.

Friday’s announcement was the latest twist in a Connecticut sports rollercoaster ride that dates back to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March, but has gained in intensity over the past month.

The CIAC allowed teams to start conditioning in cohorts of 10 on July 6 only to shut it down for 12 days in mid-August when the state Department of Public Health raised objections to the CIAC’s initial re-opening plan for the fall season that was unveiled on July 30.

Another key component to the story came on August 14, when the CIAC rejected a vote from its Football Committee to push the football season to the spring. The Football Committee was almost unanimous in its recommendation. The CIAC countered by saying the state’s low COVID numbers warranted playing football now and that there was no guarantee the numbers would be better in the spring.

Then, on August 27, the CIAC updated its fall plan that featured three weeks of cohort practice, two weeks of full-team practice and an October 1 start date for games. The plan included a green light for 11-on-11 football.

The problem was, the Department of Public Health was still advising against it, recommending football be pushed to the spring or scaled back to 7-on-7 for the fall.

The CIAC, in response, asked the DPH on August 28 if it would support re-evaluating COVID data with the CIAC at the end of September or early October to determine whether high‐risk sports could proceed.

The DPH, in its Thursday letter to the CIAC, stuck to its guns.

“As we have stated previously and consistently, there are characteristics that make certain sports unique with regard to their potential for the spread of COVID-19, and thereby present a higher risk for initiating or furthering community spread of any outbreaks even when data metrics support in-person learning,” wrote DPH Acting Commissioner Deidre Gifford.

“With regard to CIAC’s consideration of additional mitigation strategies for indoor girls’ volleyball and football that may lower their risks for person-to-person respiratory droplet spread, DPH has suggested that CIAC consider modifications to higher risk activities, and we continue to encourage such modifications. Absent such modifications, DPH is unlikely to support higher risk activities for the Fall term.”

Fall sports teams are completing the first of three cohort conditioning and non-contact skill work practices. The CIAC plan is to shift to longer, full-team practices on September 21 if the state’s COVID-19 case numbers remain below certain thresholds. An abbreviated regular season would be played in October, followed by a “tournament experience” in early November — again, if COVID-19 numbers remain good.

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