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Still A Chance For Football? CIAC Announces Plan For Alternative, Early Spring Season



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There may be traditional tackle football this school year after all.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) Board of Control met on September 29 to review the latest sport guidance issued by the state Department of Health (DPH) and took action to establish an alternative season in the second semester for sports that do not complete at least 40 percent of games during their regularly scheduled season.

This plan includes a late winter/early spring season for traditional 11 versus 11 football. The plan stipulates that winter sports will begin a bit earlier than the traditional middle- to late-December start time, beginning in early December and concluding in early February, rather than late February/early March; the alternative season would run for about a month with games beginning in mid March; and the spring season would be pushed back from the usual early April start to a late April season start and postseason culminating two weeks later than usual, on June 27.

“The start and end dates of the winter and spring seasons will be adjusted to accommodate the alternative season with minimal impact to winter and spring sports. The following dates were suggested with the understanding that all plans remain fluid and subject to the latest COVID metrics and information,” according to the CIAC’s announcement.

CIAC potential alternative 2020-21 winter season conditioning would be November 23 through December 5, with the first date of winter contests on December 7. State tournaments would be held February 8 through February 21.

The CIAC 2021 second semester alternative season conditioning would be February 22 through February 26. First day of full pads (football only) on February 27, with scrimmage dates on March 6 and March 12 or 13. First date of special season contests is March 19. Last date of special season contests is April 17.

Spring sports season conditioning would be April 11 through April 22 (for student-athletes not playing a sport in the special season). First date of spring contests is April 23. State tournament dates are June 14 through June 27.

“With the establishment of a second semester alternative season in which full contact 11 versus 11 football can be played, any football activity outside of that season would be considered out-of-season. Given that the alternative season is still subject to supportive COVID metrics, the CIAC Board of Control waived the out-of-season rule for football coaches on a limited basis,” according to the CIAC announcement. “Through November 21, football coaches will be permitted to have contact with their student-athletes to conduct low- to moderate-risk school-sponsored football activities. This may include any low- to moderate-risk football activities as provided by the member school or member school league.”

The CIAC announcement includes a “Position Statement on 11 versus 11 football” as follows: “The National Federation of State High School Associations, the CIAC, and the Connecticut DPH have all deemed football to be a higher risk activity for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Connecticut DPH has recommended that 11 versus 11 full contact football not be played this fall and the CIAC, after attempting to lower football’s risk level through COVID mitigating strategies, has aligned with DPH’s recommendation in deciding to not play 11 versus 11 full contact football this fall [see related story on page A-12 of this issue]. Therefore, the CIAC does not recommend 11 versus 11 full contact football be played in any capacity by member schools this fall. Additionally, the CIAC cautions that school districts may assume a liability risk if a district merely loans equipment to student-athletes for play in an independent 11 versus 11 full contact league. Liability is especially possible if the school district is loaning equipment that it knows will be used to perform activities that DPH has expressly advised against (e.g., equipment that is designed for use in connection with 11-on-11 football and/or football that includes tackling and line play).”

In the announcement, the CIAC addresses out-of-season, independent football league teams. Because football is out of season, CIAC recommends that football coaches’ access to their student athletes during the fall season be limited to school-sponsored low to moderate activities. “Given the latest sport guidance from the DPH, which extends to youth and independent league football, it is recommended that member schools adhere to CIAC’s out-of-season coaching rules for non-school based football teams and activities.

The CIAC notes in its announcement that there has never been a scenario in the sport of football where student-athletes have the option of playing for an outside team during the fall season.

The announcement reads: “In every CIAC sanctioned sport an athlete may not participate on a school team and outside team in the same sport during the same season. With the postponement of football until later in the 2020-2021 school year, the CIAC will offer two football opportunities. The first will be a fall season ending November 21 in which teams may participate in low to moderate risk school-based activities. A school team participating in higher risk activities does so against the recommendation of the CIAC and DPH. The CIAC is aware of independent football teams that are forming to offer a limited number of high school aged players a full contact fall league. The CIAC does not endorse play in such in leagues.”

In the interest of student-athlete safety, the CIAC recommends guidance to member schools for players who may participate on an independent football team this fall:

*A school should be aware of the potential for overuse injury if a student-athlete is participating in both school-based low- to moderate-risk football activities and non-school based high-risk independent leagues. The CIAC does not endorse simultaneous participation, however, the ultimate decision to allow dual participation is at the discretion of the school/district. To avoid the potential for overuse injuries a student-athlete should not exceed the training that is experienced during a “normal” fall football season.

*It is recommended that football experiences not exceed a schedule of five practice days per week with a duration of two hours per practice, one game per week, and one recovery/conditioning day per week. If a student-athlete is participating in both school-based activities and independent experiences, the school should monitor the student’s activities as a preventative measure against overuse injuries.

*Due to CIAC’s postponement of high-risk full contact football this fall, student-athletes have not participated in the “normal” training progression of heat acclimatization while wearing helmets and pads, nor have they engaged in the “normal” progression of skill work leading up to game speed full contact play. Therefore, it is recommended that student-athletes and their parents be advised that the likelihood of overuse injuries from participation in high-risk full-contact football, or at least those to some extent caused by not having had a preseason, occurring this fall are high.

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