Just days after standing firm on its decision to keep fall sports on its original schedule of beginning on Sept. 24, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced on Friday that all fall sports in-person activities, including conditioning, has been put on pause while the CIAC awaits a meeting with the Department of Public Health to discuss the best course of action for a potential fall sports season.
“Based on DPH recommendations, the board took the action to pause all in-person interscholastic fall sport activity including conditioning programs which are already underway until Monday, August 24,” the CIAC said in Friday’s statement. “Coaches are encouraged to promote virtual safe contact and conditioning with their athletes during the pause so as to not lose the conditioning gains and socialization benefits made during the summer.”
Friday’s announcement comes after the CIAC’s football committee recommended the sport be moved to the spring, but after that recommendation, the CIAC’s Board of Control voted unanimously to maintain the current schedule, which consisted of a start date of Sept. 23 for all fall sports, with a condensed schedule that would end in November. The football season was scheduled to begin on Monday with the first official cohort practices, but those, along with the rest of fall sports practices, will be put on hold for at least another 10 days.
“For now, everything is paused, and that includes the conditioning programs we've been running all summer,” Bristol Central football head coach Jeff Papazian said. “I texted the kids and told them we'll be off next week and that we'll keep preparing the best we can whenever we're allowed, and whatever that looks like.”
The Department of Public Health reached out to the CIAC on Thursday, recommending high-risk fall sports like football and girls volleyball be pushed back to the spring, while all other fall sports should wait to begin until at least two weeks after students returned to school. That recommendation was received after the CIAC announced it would be moving on with its original plan for fall sports, but after reviewing that recommendation, the schedule will likely change once again.
“CIAC welcomes continued collaboration and input from experts while emphasizing that the safety and health of students is the focus of all decisions,” Friday’s press release read. “The importance of safely conducting interscholastic athletics remains paramount. Connecticut COVID health metrics show students have been safely participating in athletics across the state throughout the summer and that participation in private or town programs would likely continue throughout the fall if interscholastic opportunities are cancelled. While outside programs have had minimal issues thus far, CIAC believes its collaboration with health experts and relationships with its member schools has led to a plan providing the best alignment with COVID mitigating strategies and creates the best opportunity for a safe and equitable fall sports season.”
The CIAC reached out to DPH to request a meeting in the coming week to discuss those recommendations that include delaying football and girls volleyball until the spring, and another update could come after those discussions. But for now, fall student-athletes have to clear the fields.
“Even now, the kids are saying 'OK coach, we'll wait,'” Papazian said. “All we can do is follow the guidance we're being given, but I have to imagine something has got to give and we'll get a definitive answer soon, one way or another.”
For Papazian, the Rams and all other fall sports coaches and athletes across the state, the ever-evolving outlook of the coronavirus has drastically altered preparations for the fall season, and Friday’s update was another reminder of that.
“This is my 12th year, and nothing that has gone on this summer can surprise me anymore,” Papazian said. “That's the best way I can put it. You're planning for all of these different scenarios and plan for the unknown. To say anything surprises me anymore, I don't think so.”
Other local coaches weighed in, including Southington football head coach Mike Drury, who tweeted his disappointment shortly after the CIAC’s announcement.
"This is extremely disappointing,” Drury said. “Our student athletes need this. We understand the difficult decisions ahead, but to take away strength and conditioning from them is not the correct course of action. It’s time to make decisions with our kids’ best interests in mind."