IHSA eases some restrictions, but not all

Darren Kinnard

(Updated 9/15/20 8:13 with changes IHSA response to simultaneous club/school team exemption request.)

BLOOMINGTON — After its September Board of Directors meeting Monday, the IHSA announced it has updated its Return to Activities guidelines by waiving the schedule limits of two contests per week for winter, spring, and summer sports. Those seasons will now revert to their normal season game limitations under IHSA by-laws.

“We have preached that this school year will be fluid, and the changes made by the Board today are a good example of that,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “When the IHSA’s initial Return To Activities guidelines were established, the limitation of two contests per week felt like a constraint that would help limit exposure. However, given how well our state is handling the pandemic, and the lack of setbacks in the fall sports we have conducted so far, there was a consensus that we could move forward with allowing schools to schedule winter, spring, and summer sports without further restrictions.”

The Board also approved moving the start of practice for summer sports (baseball, softball, track and field, girls soccer, lacrosse, and boys tennis) up two weeks to April 19 with games able to start on May 3.

When the IHSA announced its plan for a new four-season schedule back in late July, coaches of sports in the new summer season were upset because the new season was significantly shorter in length than the other seasons. Factor in the two contests per week rule, the summer sports faced a severely reduced schedule on the heels of having their entire seasons canceled due to the pandemic.

“We understood that when the modified schedule for 2020-21 was released that the summer sport season coaches would take some umbrage with it,” said Anderson. “However, we also knew that summer was the season that we had the most time and flexibility to work with, so we preached patience. We are glad to be able to provide some relief by creating the option to start two weeks earlier.”

This move comes as many area athletic directors have already completed their shortened schedules. Some expressed concern about the unknown of adding games and hiring refs without knowing if the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Governor’s office will approve this change. In addition, basketball, for example, is considered a medium risk sport. Under the Governor’s All Sports Policy that was instituted August 15, medium risk sports can only hold intra-squad scrimmages. Games against other teams are not allowed in the current phase. There have been no definitive standards released to know what has to happen for the phase to change.

Another issue that has come up with the shifting of seasons has been club sports. IHSA by-laws prevent athletes from competing on school teams and non-school teams at the same time in the same sports. Originally, the Board rejected a request from Highland High School for an exemption to that by-law for the sports of volleyball, lacrosse, soccer, baseball, and softball. Tuesday, a clarification was sent out that the Board tabled that decision and will await feedback from coaches in those sports before deciding.

“The Board understands both sides of the argument and has heard from passionate advocates for each scenario,” said Anderson. “Ultimately, concerns over safety and equity left them uncomfortable with providing an exemption to this rule. They understand it could lead to some difficult decisions between participating on a school or non-school team. Fundamentally, the nature and mission of the IHSA is to provide participation opportunities to all students. The Board agreed that if a student-athlete chooses to leave their school team for a non-school team, it simply creates an opportunity for another student to step in and fill that role.”

The Board tabled discussion of an appeal request to move the wrestling season from winter to summer. The topic will be revisited at next month’s meeting when the Board feels it will be in a better position to evaluate winter sports.