Taking a look at the most important things the IHSA board will need to address Wednesday

  • Barrington High School's stadium may be empty now, but if COVID trends continue it may be in use soon.

      Barrington High School's stadium may be empty now, but if COVID trends continue it may be in use soon. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/26/2021 2:52 PM

The Illinois High School Association's board of directors meets Wednesday, and it will be the most significant decision-making session since the pandemic hit a year ago.

As the coronavirus metrics trend in a positive direction, we stand on the threshold of seeing high school sports resuming.

 

How they resume will first rest on the decisions made by the IHSA board, which will be driven by guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health as well as Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan.

Without rehashing the confusion of tiers, phases and levels, the assumption here is if trends continue on the course they have the past couple of weeks, most if not all of the state should be back to Phase 4 within the next week or so.

Here are the top important agenda items for the board:

• Calendars. The board has maintained throughout the shutdown the desire to conduct all sports by the end of June. However, using a Feb. 1 start date for competitions, which still may be early for some, tells us time is running short to think 24 sports can be played in what amounts to roughly 21 to 22 weeks, with the end of the 2020-21 season being June 26.

That's going to be the first and most formidable challenge the board has. Whatever it decides, not everyone will be happy. Do you scrap basketball? Or, do you play basketball, and all winter sports, until, say, March 15, then adjust the calendar to begin the new spring sports season?

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One consideration has to be the practice days the IHSA has established before competitions can be held; that number is 12 for basketball and seven for all other winter sports.

Football will be a challenge with needing at least 14 days of practice before any games are played. The current calendar has football practice season beginning Feb. 15 but if that's backed up to March 15, and don't play games before April 1, it'll be a short season.

As one football coach told me Monday, "If we get a five-game season and no playoffs, I'll take it."

Coming up with a calendar for all sports to be played will be difficult but doable.

• Equity. IHSA executive director Craig Anderson and I have spoken on this subject many times in the past few months. With respect to those who may lose a season this year, it's important for the board to be equitable as it prepares a new calendar.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Football is important to football people, basketball to basketball people. While those may be the sports that drive athletic departments and the IHSA financially, there will likely be no fans and no state tournaments from which to draw revenue. We would implore the IHSA board to treat all sports equally, but to also keep in mind first the sports that lost their seasons from March 2020 on, especially the traditional spring sports that didn't play a single contest in 2020.

• A plan for interruptions. You'd be hard-pressed to find a state that is playing high school sports where there have not been postponements or cancellations due to COVID-19, and to think we won't have that in Illinois would be very shortsighted. The IHSA will need a plan -- as will school districts -- to deal with those situations. There's also no guarantee some regions may slip back from Phase 4, which could interrupt some seasons. The bottom line is if a season starts it means we're progressing. But everyone needs to be prepared for changes.

When the IHSA board wraps its meeting, the hope and expectation is we'll have a plan moving forward.

And that's all we can ask for.

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