Subject to Change

Darren Kinnard

There are certain words and phrases that have become synonymous with the pandemic–social distancing, virtual meetings, curbside, uncertain times, new normal, fluid, and to be determined are just a few.

Other than maybe curbside, each of these words or phrases can be directly associated with high school athletics, as administrators around Illinois are scurrying to adapt plans and schedules following the IHSA’s announcement Wednesday of changes in sports seasons for the upcoming school year.

As Anna-Jonesboro head football coach and principal Brett Detering put it, “Beats the alternative.”

The River to River and Black Diamond Conference have already held initial meetings following the IHSA announcement. The South 7 is scheduled to have a virtual meeting Tuesday. Other conferences have meetings scheduled for the days ahead. While the IHSA is still working on sport by sport guidance, athletic directors are feverishly working to adjust their schedules into the new four-season format. The scramble is in large part so schools can line up officials. The shortage of men and women in stripes has been well-documented. It’s a situation that could be further complicated if officials are limited to their home Emergency Medical Services (EMS) region as determined by the state in the Restore Illinois Plan.

As part of the IHSA conversion to four seasons, each of those seasons will be shortened. For example, football was advised that it will likely be a seven-game regular season. The Black Diamond, which is a closed 10-team conference, has decided to drop weeks one and nine. The River to River plans to play weeks 3-8 from the original schedule and then close with week 2. The rationale being multi-fold: non-conference games would bookend the five weeks of conference play, week 2 is all crossover (Ohio vs Mississippi) games, and week 3 has five crossover matchups. Also, wrapping up with a non-conference game gives some cushion if the IHSA changes to a six-game regular season. South 7 schools are facing significant obstacles trying make their schedules due to their size and location. More on the location part in a minute.

In addition to shortening seasons, in-season tournaments will not be allowed. This will have a major impact in wrestling, basketball, and volleyball. Teams will also be limited to two or three contests per week depending on the sport. Limits on team numbers and participants will make a significant impact on track and field, cross country, and perhaps golf.

It’s fluid in these uncertain times.

And if your head is not spinning yet, consider this. In the All Sports Policy that was revealed by Governor J.B. Pritzker hours before the IHSA announcement, teams in lower risk sports currently are allowed to compete in intra-conference or intra-EMS region games only. What if the conference spans two different EMS regions, as the Black Diamond, River to River, and South 7 do? The IHSA guidance to schools was “Competitions should be within an Illinois COVID (EMS) Region or within a conference.” Of course the IHSA and the Governor’s Office/IDPH have been on different pages before during the pandemic.

The BDC and SIRR are planning to move forward with current conference schedules unless directed to do otherwise. The South 7 will hash out its plans Tuesday. One other caveat–this All Sports Policy is part of Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan. Currently, medium risk sports could have scrimmages but no games. High risk sports are in a no-contact practice stage. The Governor’s Office has not released the metrics on how the level of activity will move from one stage to another. If the state would move back to Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois Plan, no games or matches will be played.

One more wrinkle for schools to deal with is remote learning. Herrin recently announced that students who chose remote learning would not be eligible to participate in extra curricular activities. Carbondale Community High School decided Thursday night at a special school board meeting that its school year will start with total remote learning, but there is a provision that says “The Remote Learning model does not preclude students from participating in extracurricular activities.”

Once the schedules are set and with more sport by sport guidance, school officials then have to figure out the spectator situation–how many people will be allowed, social distancing protocols, etc. Right now, that falls in the “To Be Determined” category.

The IHSA gave a thumbs up to boys and girls golf, boys and girls cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming and diving for the fall. Practices are scheduled to begin August 10. The ADs hope to get more sport by sport guidance Monday in a virtual meeting with IHSA.

All this thinking and writing have made me hungry. It’s time to go pick up some grub curbside. After all, that is the new normal.