CHESHIRE - As is almost always the way, what the state wants, the state gets. After weeks of stringing everyone along, the Connecticut Department of Public Health and acting commissioner Deidre S. Gifford finallly made it known to the CIAC that they weren’t going to budge from their position that an 11 vs. 11 high school football season was a high risk activity that they were not going to let happen. On September 4, the CIAC surrendered, to the consternation of coaches, players and parents.

“Football is an 11-on11 sport, period,” said St. Joseph (Trumbull) head coach Joe Della Vecchia on Twitter. “Shame on DPH. Clueless! 7 v. 7 is not an alternative for an ‘experience.” Time for new leaders!” Della Vecchia added.

So, there will be Watertown High School, NVL or any other kind of traditional gridiron action...period.

In doing so, the state became the 17th to cancel it’s traditional season; two other New England states (Vermont, which is going 7 vs. 7 and Massachusetts, which will play next spring) will not play regulation football in 2020.

Neither will North Branford H.S. Brandon Fratta.

“I will NOT play football this fall if my offensive line is not out there with me,” Fratta put on his Twitter feed. “7 vs. 7 is not football.”

The CIAC has stated that any canceled sport will not be played at another time during the school year.

At it’s September 3 meeting, the CIAC’s Board of Control reviewed the DPH’s response to its August 28 letter requesting support of (1) modifications which lower the risk of indoor volleyball; (2) low to moderate risk activities in football; and (3) an opportunity to re-assess the viability high risk full contact football based on COVID metrics at the end of September or early October, hopefully leading to an October 1 kickoff.

Hoping to sway the DPH to change its’ decision, many players, coaches and parents gathered in West Hartford for a Labor Day Weekend rally; a more massive demonstration was planned at the Capitol Hartford on September 9 featuring team captains and NFL players with Connecticut roots. 

In it’s September 3 letter to CIAC, the DPH stated: “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. We would also recommend that CIAC consult with your sports medicine committee before implementing significant changes to how high school sports are played in our state so that any potential unintended consequences of those changes (including increased risk of injury) can be fully vetted prior to implementation.”

There was good news for all sports - except one.

“In alignment with DPH’s recommendation to consult its sports medicine committee, 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. As such, with the modification of players wearing masks indoors, the CIAC has aligned volleyball with DPH’s previous support of full team practice and game schedules for soccer, field hockey, cross country, and swimming.”

Now, for the bad news for one sport.

“In regard to football, the CIAC Board of Control has provided DPH with updated statements from the NFHS that reflect its position on 11 vs. 11 football and the success of other states that are currently playing full contact football. The CIAC also provided an updated timeline that reflected an opportunity to evaluate sufficient COVID data after an approximate 3 to 4 week return to school. 

HERE COMES 

THE DAGGER

“However, DPH has made it clear that it is  unlikely to support higher risk activities for the Fall term.  Given DPH’s position, the CIAC is obligated to provide its student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and superintendents with a clear direction on football activities that aligns with DPH recommendations. 

“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.

“As such, the CIAC Board of Control, in alignment with DPH recommendations, has determined that high risk full contact football is no longer a viable option. 

“In alignment with DPH’s encouragement to consider modifications to higher risk activities, the CIAC will collaborate with athletic directors, coaches, and medical experts to provide football players with meaningful low to moderate risk fall activities. While the CIAC’s fall sports offerings are now aligned with DPH recommendations, it still stresses that progression to full team practices and moderate risk activities on September 21 and game play on October 1 is dependent on COVID metrics that support such activities.

The CIAC will remain fluid in providing the safest experiences possible for our student-athletes and will continue to consider any future changes in DPH recommendations for fall sport activities.”

And with those words, the 2020 varsity football season was brought to a close.

GETTING TO

SEPTEMBER 3/4

This all began, as did COVID-19’s devastating effects, in early March, when after exhausting efforts and research, the CIAC canceled its winter championships and full spring season. 

Fast-Forward to mid-summer.

On July 6, the CIAC returned student-athletes to structured conditioning programs that emphasized COVID mitigating strategies and reconnected kids with their coaches, peers, and school communities in meaningful experiences. 

On July 30, the CIAC approved its Official Fall Sports plan, which was developed in collaboration with a diverse representative group of educational, medical, and community leaders, reviewed by the ReOpen CT Rules Committee, and, included DPH consultation. 

This did not meet with the good graces of the DPH, which fully expected the CIAC to take a different position.

After receiving a substantially different recommendation from DPH on August 13, the CIAC paused all activities while it worked with DPH to understand its position. 

By this point, to many it became certain that the DPH was going to exert it’s will, but the CIAC and Executive Director Glenn Lungarini, did everything it could to give the players and coaches a chance to play.

It was all for naught, as a statement by the CIAC made plain. 

AUGUST 23

“On August 23, we received its next update from DPH which returned student athletes to the conditioning and low-risk non-contact sport specific skill work that was part of the our original Official Fall Sports Plan.

“With the exception of girls’ volleyball and football, DPH agrees with your most recent proposed schedule for the start of full team practices and competitions. We also recommend coordination and collaboration at the district level given the potential variations in back to school plans across the state.

“In that statement, the DPH supported the our plan for full team practice to begin on September 21 and games beginning on October 1, providing positing COVID metrics, in the sport of cross country, soccer, field hockey, and girls swimming.

“In its August 23 update, the DPH also stated that, ‘For all the reasons we have discussed with you previously, DPH does not recommend that full-contact high school football or indoor girls’ volleyball be played during the upcoming fall season in our state,’” the statement read.

This was when we started hearing about alternatives such as 7 vs. 7 football and outdoor girls’ volleyball. 

“In regard to girls volleyball, DPH’s previous reason, as indicated in its August 13 letter, was that, ‘Although there is infrequent close contact between opposing players involved with this sport, the fact that activities for this sport are occurring indoors and involve significant physical exertion and forceful communication with teammates, the risk for person-to-person spread of infectious droplets is elevated for this specific sport.’”

DPH updated its guidance on August 23 and stated: “DPH encourages CIAC to work with their coaches, athletic directors, and board members to consider modifications to both girls’ volleyball and football that would allow them to be played consistent with the standards that define either  ‘lower risk or outdoor moderate risk sports’ as categorized by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

AUGUST 28

In an August 28 response, the CIAC inquired whether DPH would support the play of indoor volleyball where all participants wear masks to be a mitigating strategy that addresses the concern of indoor moderate risk sports. 

“The CIAC stressed that only low-risk activities would take place in volleyball up to September 21, as is the case with all other fall sports. The CIAC would only move to moderate risk full team practices on September 21 if the COVID metrics were to support such activities. The CIAC would only move to moderate risk sport competition on October 1 if the COVID metrics were to support such activities. 

“Throughout this progression, volleyball players would wear masks at all times while in the gymnasium,” the CIAC statement pointed out.

“In regard to football,” the CIAC statement read, “DPH’s previous reason, as indicated in its August 13 letter, was that, ‘Full-contact football is unique among the fall interscholastic sports in our state in its level of risk to student-athletes for the person-to-person spread of infectious respiratory droplets. “

THE CIAC RESPONSE

On August 28, the CIAC requested the following support from DPH pertaining to football:

1. Would DPH support football engaging in ‘low to moderate’ risk activities after September 21, if supported by COVID metrics that would permit sports such as soccer and field hockey to proceed in that manner? The CIAC will work with member school coaches and athletic directors to design ‘low to moderate’ risk activities during the time frame of August 29 through September 21.

Through that process, the CIAC will vet the appropriateness of the 7 vs. 7 option recommended by DPH as a possible moderate risk football activity. 

The NFHS was not suggesting that states should play 7 vs. 7 football instead of 11-player football; it was only listed as an example of an activity that occurs in some states at the high school level. 

2. Would DPH support reevaluating the COVID metrics with the CIAC at the end of September or early October to determine whether it would be appropriate for ‘high risk’ interscholastic sport activities to take place at that time? 

The CIAC believeed their plan for football and volleyball was safe and logical, and followed a progression determined by COVID medical science while supporting the physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and mental health needs of student-athletes.

THE FINAL EXCHANGES

On September 3, DPH responded to the CIAC’s support request in a letter that stated,  “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. We would also recommend that CIAC consult with your sports medicine committee before implementing significant changes to how high school sports are played in our state so that any potential unintended consequences of those changes (including increased risk of injury) can be fully vetted.

Based on DPH’s September 3 letter, and in collaboration with its medical experts, the CIAC believes the modification of wearing masks mitigates the risk expressed by DPH and provides a safe indoor environment for the sport of volleyball.

“In regard to football, DPH’s September 3 letter provides no support for the CIAC to continue preparing for a full contact season. In its latest letter, it is clearly stated that,  ‘DPH is unlikely to support higher risk activities for the Fall term.  As such, the CIAC feels it has provided the DPH with the most up to date NFHS guidance and exhausted all possible scenarios to provide Connecticut student-athletes with a full contact football experience. 

“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, in alignment with DPH guidance, will now work with its dedicated athletic directors and football coaches to provide football players with the best low and moderate risk experiences possible.”

Whatever that is, it won’t be what we’re used to seeing, and indications already are that it won’t be this winter, either.

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