'The whole thing is an overall migraine': Athletic directors face new challenges in creating fall schedules
Athletic directors are nearing the end of a 15-day sprint.
From the day the IHSA announced the plan for the 2020-21 school year on July 29 that allows golf, cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming as a fall sport to the first day contests are allowed Aug. 13 (for golf, Aug. 24 for the other three sports), it sure didn't give ADs much time to put a fall schedule together.
Most are still finalizing those schedules this week. All of them are dealing with all kinds of new restrictions, from the number of teams allowed to compete at a meet to where those schools can come from.
"Never boring," said Kaneland athletic director Dave Rohlman.
The new guidelines, which limits contests to schools that are either in your conference or COVID region, has forced ADs to get creative. The DuPage Valley Conference has worked with the DuKane Conference to come up with a schedule that involves a lot of duals and triangulars between schools in those two conferences.
"We are working with the DuKane to create schedules that will easily and efficiently enhance our DVC schedules," Naperville North athletic director Bob Quinn said. "We plan to do it more aptly moving through the year with other sports. We are trying to finalize some of those now."
After two AD meetings last week, the 10-team Fox Valley Conference decided to create a FVC bubble, a plan the principals approved. Their fall will consist of only contests against other FVC schools.
The hope is it will provide consistency when it comes to deciding on things like the number of spectators allowed.
"We are trying to develop consistent conference guidelines and that's really the idea, the driving force behind doing a Fox Valley Conference bubble," Jacobs athletic director Joe Benoit said. "We wanted to draft our own guidelines, rules and regulations within the conference and make sure we are all consistent. That was really important to us to make sure we keep our kids and coaches safe."
The Chicago Catholic League, which includes Marmion, is going the opposite direction. With schools spread out, they are making a majority of their schedules against schools in their COVID regions, then filling in open dates with conference teams. Conference ADs met Wednesday and still hope to have conference championship invites to end the year.
Marmion athletic director Paul Chabura said he isn't as concerned about the scheduling as the logistics of holding an event.
"The whole thing is an overall migraine," Chabura said. "I can assure you administrators have not slept since March. You are planning on this and every time you think you get an answer to one particular issue it opens up seven other questions and scenarios. It's a huge rabbit hole. You are trying to do the best you can to keep kids safe and compete within guidelines."
Wauconda athletic director Mark Ribbens had to cancel their annual cross country invitational that drew 20 schools and about 300 runners.
He said he hopes to have a new cross country schedule finished by the end of the week.
"It's a challenge but it's the same message we give to the coaches. We will stay positive, we will make the best out of it and whatever we need to do to make it as special and creative as possible for the kids, that's always going to be our focus," Ribbens said. "You have a lot of ideas but they all have to pass the guidelines. You go down the list and say can we make all these guidelines? That's how we are making decisions at this point."
The new guidelines certainly create some interesting situations. Kaneland, for example, is a member of the Interstate Eight. The Knights can travel to LaSalle-Peru to play, a 130-mile round trip, but can't schedule a nonconference game against DeKalb, 15 miles away.
Rohlman said the first thing he did when making a fall schedule was get a pen out and cross off all the schools the Knights are no longer allowed to play. That includes a 30-minute trip to Oswego the tennis team normally made.
Instead, Rohlman made a list of every school in Kane and DuPage counties to look for nonconference games.
"We want to make sure our kids are safe and we provide them with as much opportunity as we can," Rohlman said.
Keeping students and coaches safe is the top priority for everyone in making the schedule.
"I get an email from an AD in our COVID region looking for something but we have to figure out conference first because everything has been turned upside down," said Ribbens, encouraged by the numbers on the first day of practice Monday. "It's a great opportunity to go do something, go compete and represent your school and community."