MOUNT CARMEL — Much has been made about Tuesday’s release by the IHSA, with the official announcement that they’d be deferring to the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, with speculation rampantly spreading now pertaining to the fate of the fall sports season.
While that very much so remains up in the air, Tuesday’s announcement wasn’t exactly surprising — or to be honest, much of an update.
Just nearly two weeks prior the IHSA announced the approval of their Stage 2 Return to Play Guidelines. Furthermore, they opted to latch onto the “Restore Illinois” plan enacted by Pritzker in April, essentially intertwining their fate with the IDPH and putting it in Pritzker’s hands.
As for why this isn’t really much of an update — the IHSA was going to have to abide by Pritzker and the IDPH’s regulations regardless.
“There is an unprecedented level of planning for this school year due to COVID-19, and we have come to understand that there needs to be a greater consistency between the guidelines for returning to learn and returning to interscholastic athletics,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in Tuesday’s release. “Some of the recommendations by the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) and directives from IDPH have come into direct conflict with each other, especially as it relates to the use of masks by student-athletes. As a result, we feel it is important to let IDPH and ISBE provide a consistent direction for our membership moving forward. We will wait on direction from these organizations for further guidance on Return to Play plans for the 2020-21 school year.”
One publication had Anderson on record doubting the feasibility of being able to hold a high school football season this fall, but with the vast majority of surrounding states proceeding with their intentions to host fall sports, Illinois will likely feel pressured to follow suit. A complication remains if students don’t return to the traditional classroom setting. For spring sports, the IHSA cited the inability to justify proceeding with a season while student-athletes were unable to safely attend class.
A strong argument could be made that Illinois is better equipped than possibly any other state in the country to host a season, with a stabilized COVID-19 infection rate, a seeming grasp on the infection, and having already experienced the brute of the outbreak in April and May.
Ultimately the IHSA could elect to adopt a plan similar to the NJCAA and postpone seasons for an extended period until a vaccine is available, but high school sports becomes tricky to do so with. Many athletes compete in multiple sports, which could cause a costly overlap. With the current mandate, a season wouldn’t be permitted to be held for nearly every fall sport. There’ll have to be a concession or exemption on Pritzker’s behalf if that’s to change.
Tuesday’s release certainly grabbed headlines, but it really served little purpose. The fate of the season was always ultimately going to be in Pritzker’s hands, and if or when he’ll decide on it remains unclear.