CHESHIRE — Full-contact football will not happen — in any format for high school — this fall.
That is the decision the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced on Wednesday, reaffirming its Sept. 3 ruling to cancel full-contact 11-on-11 football.
The CIAC did keep the possibility of a spring season open, although it did not commit to one. The sports body had previously stated that any fall sports not played starting Oct. 1 — the current date high school sports in Connecticut are set to begin — would not be moved to the spring.
“This decision was made in alignment with the Connecticut Department of Health’s recommendation that football is a high-risk sport and should not be played this fall," the CIAC said in a statement. “The board did, however, agree it would consider allowing competition at a later time for a sport that cannot hold its regularly scheduled season, such as football, provided it does not negatively impact spring sports.”
After the CIAC announced it was canceling full-contact football games on Sept. 3, it met with state officials last Friday to present a strategy to allow football with modifications, continuing the back-and-forth between the two organizations over the past two months. This came after players held several rallies for a season and Gov. Ned Lamont’s urging the CIAC and DPH to meet to come to some kind of agreement.
The DPH encouraged the CIAC to confer with the National Federation of High Schools regarding its plan for football, which included a clause that all players would be required to wear plastic face shields. CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini that NFHS would not exercise approval of individual state guidelines.
But in the end, DPH, which deemed football unsafe to play in August, did not change its stance.
In a letter to the CIAC on Monday, Acting DPH Commissioner Deidre Gifford said there was no scientific evidence that supported the effectiveness of playing football with a face shield. And again, the DPH recommended the CIAC postpone the season, or seek moderate- to low-risk alternatives for the fall. Options such as 7-on-7 passing leagues or a combine have been ideas floated around. But neither of those two ideas has been supported by football players or coaches.
“There was no further avenue the CIAC felt we could pursue to have our mitigating strategies meet a standard to re-categorize football to a moderate-risk category,” Lungarini said in a virtual press conference.
“Our effort was to do as much as we could to play in the fall,” he added. “It was evident to us that to pay this fall, we were going to have to find a strategy to re-categorize the sport out of the higher-risk categorization and we weren’t able to do that. And to that end, even the CIAC and our Sports Medicine Committee agreed football is high-risk.”
Lungarini said the CIAC will continue to consider other alternative options for football players and will present ideas to its football committee on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the CIAC stated schools, with the support of their local DPH could opt to play full-contact football as a “club” sport, similar to girls ice hockey, without adherence to CIAC covid mitigating plans. If schools went that route, players would still be eligible for a spring season.
Under the ReOpen CT guidelines, high-risk sports can be played, including football, basketball and hockey in Connecticut. The state, however, offered different guidelines for scholastic sports. Currently, the state has allowed youth sports and AAU tournaments to be played, as well as traveling out of state for games, such as what the New Britain Bees, the Futures Collegiate Baseball League team, was able to do over the summer.
But Lungarini said moving football to the spring could produce some challenges, especially for multi-sport athletes, as well as a potential increase in the risk of injuries should two football seasons were held in the same calendar year. He also said there was currently no timetable for a decision to be made and the CIAC was looking at a variety of factors, including what the state of the pandemic in the spring.
“We understand the passion of our kids to play full-contact football,” Lungarini said. “They don’t see 7-v-7 as a football experience. They want that full-contact experience. We don’t think, right now, there’s enough information available to definitively say there is another time of year that would be better. But we have laid out some the criteria that we’re looking for to identify that may be better that would impact the sports that were negatively impacted last year.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org