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Head Coach Anthony Sagnella and the athletes on the North Haven football team recently heard some bad news when they found out that there will be no 11-on-11 high school football in Connecticut this fall. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
On Sept. 4, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) made an announcement that sent shockwaves through the state. Following a vote by its Board of Control, the CIAC announced that high school football will not be played in its traditional 11-on-11, full-contact format this fall, in adherence with guidelines established by the state's Department of Health (DPH) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DPH had recently made a recommendation to the CIAC that football, which is considered a higher-risk sport regarding risk of infection, be played in a 7-on-7, non-tackle format, thereby classifying the sport as a possible moderate-risk activity. On Sept. 3, the DPH doubled down on its position in a letter to the CIAC, stating that it was "unlikely to support higher-risk activities for the fall term." Shortly thereafter, the CIAC decided that there will be no 11-versus-11 football played this fall.
"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," the CIAC said in a press release. "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."
In August, the DPH recommended to the CIAC to move football and girls' volleyball—another sport that the DPH considers higher risk—from the fall to the spring and for volleyball matches to be played outdoors. In its recent announcement, the CIAC stated that it is planning to play volleyball indoors with the modification of having the athletes wear masks, thus aligning the sport "with DPH's previous support of full team practice and game schedules for soccer, field hockey, cross country, and swimming." The CIAC added that "progression to full team practices and moderate-risk activities on Sept. 21 and game play on Oct. 1 is dependent on COVID metrics that support such activities."
The CIAC said that it is vetting the appropriateness of the 7-versus-7 option for football recommended by the DPH as a possible moderate-risk activity. The 7-on-7 format is widely understood to bar full-contact aspects like blocking and tackling and opt for other options to rule a play down like those in one- or two-hand touch or flag football.
On Sept. 9, members of at least 40 Connecticut high school football teams attended a rally at the Capitol building in Hartford in an effort to save the 11-on-11 football season. Approximately 1,200 people went to the event with hope of getting the CIAC and DPH to meet and discuss the current state of the fall campaign. Chants of "Let them play!" rang out as students, coaches, state legislators, and other guest speakers spoke on the Capitol steps. The local players who spoke at the rally included East Haven's Trey Garea, Brandon Fratta of North Branford, Haddam-Killingworth's Kevin Cavrell and Daniel LaRosa, and Aedan McDermott of Guilford, along with Guilford Head Coach Anthony Salvati.
After Governor Ned Lamont asked for the CIAC and the DPH to meet, the two organizations did have a meeting on Sept. 11 at which the CIAC presented new ideas for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. However, there were no new decisions that came out of that meeting as the DPH reiterated the fact that it is advising against higher-risk activities such as football, especially since Connecticut has seen a slight uptick in recent COVID cases, particularly among people who are aged 10 to 25.
There has been talk about moving the football season to the spring following the DPH's recommendation, as well as a vote by the CIAC's football committee to do so. However, the CIAC Board of Control has said that any sport that is not played during the fall will not be made up in the spring.
Schools in New Haven and Bridgeport have opted to not play football since the sport falls into the higher-risk category. Neighboring states such as Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island have moved their high school football seasons to spring 2021.
On July 31, the CIAC released its original plan to play a shortened fall sports season that would have started on Thursday, Sept. 24. On Aug. 10, the CIAC's football committee made a vote that recommended moving the football season to next spring. Two days later, the CIAC's Board of Control unanimously voted to continue with its plan for the fall season for all sports.
However, the next day, the DPH recommended to the CIAC to move football and girls' volleyball to the spring and also recommended suspending fall sports activities until at least two weeks after the reopening of in-person instruction in schools. The CIAC responded by putting fall sports activities on hold and revising its plan to play.
On Aug. 23, the CIAC announced that all teams would be allowed to resume conditioning the following day and begin participating in non-contact, sport-specific skillwork in groups of 10 people or fewer on Aug. 29. Then on Aug. 26, the CIAC updated its plan to play fall sports and, in doing so, pushed back the first scheduled date for regular-season games to Thursday, Oct. 1.
The CIAC also stated that the target date to begin full team practices is Monday, Sept. 21, but that it was dependent on Connecticut's COVID metrics remaining low with a seven-day average of fewer than 10 new cases a day per 100,000 state residents. The CIAC said that on Friday, Sept. 18, it plans to inform schools whether they will be able to progress to full team practices on Sept. 21.
Twenty-nine states in the U.S. including Connecticut are either modifying their fall sports seasons and/or moving certain sports to a different time of the school year. There will be no fall competition in seven states and the District of Columbia. There are 14 states in which no changes have been made to the fall season.
There are currently 17 states that are modifying their football seasons. There are 19 states including Connecticut, as well as the District of the Columbia, in which no fall football is scheduled to be played.
As of press time, there were 54,326 people in Connecticut who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, including 4,480 fatalities. Connecticut is 33rd in the U.S. in the number of total cases and 13th in total deaths.