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Players Protest, CIAC’s Push For Traditional Football Season Does Not Sway DPH



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Update: The CIAC, on Wednesday, September 16, reaffirmed its September 3 decision to cancel full contact football and details have been added to this article.

High School football players from around the state gathered at the state Capitol in Hartford to protest on September 9, in hopes that lawmakers will support their desire to kick off the season despite plans to scrap the gridiron slate due to concerns relating to the coronavirus.

Representatives from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) and its sports medicine committee, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH), and the governor’s office met in Hartford two days later to discuss the CIAC’s strategies for COVID mitigation relating to the sport of football.

DPH Acting Commissioner Deidre S. Gifford, MD, MPH, in a September 14 letter to CAS-CIAC Executive Director Glenn M. Lungarini and CIAC board members, showed appreciation for the CIAC’s efforts to make football a fall reality but indicated that the DPH does not change its stance on football being a “higher risk” sport.

In the letter, it reads that the DPH agrees that most of the COVID mitigation strategies suggested by CIAC “align well with the generally accepted public health recommendations for reducing the spread of COVID-19.” Despite this, the DPH concludes that there is not enough evidence that these strategies, including use of cloth coverings on face shields, will be enough to stop the spread.

A portion of the DPH letter reads: “To our knowledge, and as affirmed by representatives of the CIAC Sports Medicine Committee on our September 11th call, there is currently no scientific information available to determine: (1) the effectiveness of plastic shields that attach to the helmet or a cloth covering over the front grill portion of the helmet in preventing the spread of respiratory droplets among players and (2) that these specific prevention measures are safe for high school players to use during play. Without any additional data or documentation, DPH could not definitively say whether or not these technologies are safe to use or could be expected to work effectively from an infection control or epidemiologic perspective to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Nor could we assert that they would change the categorization of full contact football from “higher risk” to “moderate risk.” DPH continues to recommend substituting athletic or any other activities that could be considered “moderate risk” or “lower risk” in place of “higher risk” ones and/or postponing those activities to a later time when other public health strategies may be more available and better studied.”

At its September 16, 2020, meeting, the CIAC Board of Control reaffirmed its September 3 decision to cancel full contact football for the 2020-2021 school year. 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 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. See the complete announcement at casciac.org.

The CIAC’s report, also available at casciac.org, detailing mitigating strategies for minimizing droplet spread during play was presented at the September 11 meeting. These suggestions follow previously set precautions including social distancing and spacing along sidelines, which were not enough for the CIAC to earn DPH backing for traditional 11-versus-11, full-contact football to take place. The season was called off earlier this month before pressure on the CIAC and state officials from some in the state’s football community led to the September 11 meeting.

Although 11-versus-11, full-contact football is still canceled, at least for the time being, alternative variations of football have been considered.

The low- to moderate-risk football activities under consideration include lineman challenges and skill contests, with potential for a skill shootout, lineman combine, and senior showcase events. Skill contests would involve seven players per side with no running plays allowed and one-hand touch to end offensive plays among the many alterations to traditional football rules. The hope among coaches and players is that a traditional season will be held with modifications as presented in the September 11 meeting.

According to the CIAC’s report following the meeting, the proposed modifications in an effort to have regular football are as follows:

*Players will wear a grill mask or face shield on their helmets during play.

*Coaches will wear tightly fitting cloth masks.

*Coaches and players will wear tightly fitting masks at all time when not engaged in contact activities.

*Each player will have a designated station where they will keep their own personal water, sanitizer, and equipment required for play.

*Player stations will be appropriately socially distanced and each will be used only by that player throughout the game.

*The sideline box for coaches and players will be extended to the ten yard line to provide additional room for social distancing for players not on the field.

*Mouthguards are to remain in the mouth for the duration of the time that a player is on the field. The use of masks provides an added benefit as they will help to ensure that this occurs.

Players may remove mouthguards and masks in their designated station and are required to use sanitizer for their hands/gloves after replacing. The mouthguard protocol is assumed to be expected for all sports that require or have common use of mouthguards, such as soccer, field hockey, etc.

*The maximum number of coaches on the sidelines will be ten and the maximum number of players allowed will be 45. These numbers must be reduced if adequate spacing of at least six feet cannot be provided on the sideline.

*Huddles will be set farther back and require approximately three feet between each player, minimized, or eliminated. To compensate for this, additional time will be allowed between plays to enable coach-to-player and player-to-player communication. “No huddle” offenses are common among many teams and while not compulsory today, can be instituted for the 2020 season.

*During the coin toss at the start of play or for overtime, only one captain from each team and one referee will be allowed to join this ritual.

*The coin toss will take place with all parties six feet apart, at minimum.

*Everyone but the quarterback will be encouraged to wear receiver gloves that will be sprayed with disinfectant at start of the first and third quarters.

*School monitors to clear stadium immediately after a game.

*If media is allowed, postgame guidelines will be set regarding interviews.

*Leagues will hold weekly meetings with athletic directors and/or coaches to review adherence to all strategies and discuss potential improvements.

Newtown High's Eric Gray runs with the ball during practice at Blue & Gold Stadium. —Bee Photo, Hutchison
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