CHICAGO — The Illinois High School Association said Wednesday all sports are expected to be played over four shortened seasons in the 2020-21 school year, while some fall sports will move to the spring after state coronavirus guidelines placed restrictions on competitive play.
According to the IHSA, golf, tennis, cross country and swimming/diving will be conducted in the fall, while football, girls volleyball and boys soccer will be played during the spring 2021 season.
The schools will be responsible for creating their own schedules, not IHSA. The new condensed 2020-21 IHSA season dates are: Fall from August 10 to October 24, Winter from November 16 to February 13, Spring from February 15 to May 1 and Summer from May 3 to June 26.
For approved fall sports, teams will compete in groups of 50 or less where multiple groups are distanced a minimum of 30 feet apart, the IHSA said.
Following restrictions issued by the State of Illinois earlier Wednesday, competitions will be limited to teams within the same conference or region established in the state’s “Restore Illinois” plan. Fan gatherings will also need to be less than 50 people, following state coronavirus guidelines.
“We talk about adversity and how you handle that and we are going to deal with it; and we are going to be better for it,” Brother Rice Football Coach Brian Badke said.
The Illinois High School Association board made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, issuing its ruling hours after Governor JB Pritzker announced new state rules restricting youth and adult recreational sports activities.
The restrictions are broken into four different “levels,” which are assigned to sports based on whether they’re considered low, medium or high risk based on the amount of contact between athletes.
Starting August 15, sports which are considered medium or high risk will not be allowed to hold any competitive matches, effectively preventing the fall football, soccer and volleyball seasons from getting underway. Only “low-risk” sports like tennis, baseball and golf will be allowed to engage in competitive play.
“I’ll be honest with you, the dates we created are our first attempt at trying to project or predict what possibly could happen for us to get those medium and higher risk sports opportunities for competition,” said Craig Anderson, IHSA Executive Director. “It remains an unknown. We simply have to see how it progresses.”
Anderson anticipates nine weeks of spring football with teams playing six-to-seven regular season contests and then moving into some type of regional postseason competition.
“It’s going to be difficult to crown some sort of state champion in football,” Anderson acknowledged, though he said it is the IHSA’s priority to provide all sports with postseason opportunities. “If we get to level 4 in high risk sports in (the spring) time frame, we will do what we can to make that happen.”
Officials said they’re concerned about high school athletes, based on an uptick in virus cases in countries where they were allowed.
“Some sports carry an inherently higher risk of exposure because of direct contact, like football and wrestling, while others have a lower risk, like golf and bowling,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “As we learn to coexist with COVID-19, we must be smart and measured in how we go about it.”
However, in order for some winter sports to take place at all, the restrictions would likely need to be lessened for medium and high risk activities, which Pritzker said would only happen if the spread of COVID-19 slows.
IHSA by-laws also do not prevent schools conducting remote learning from participating in IHSA sports and activities. Participation will remain a local school and district decision, regardless of the learning plan a high school is utilizing.
For seniors in sports, the decision has repercussions well beyond the high school level. Future college enrollment is on the line, and for some a scholarship can mean the difference from one school to the next or going altogether.
“I’m concerned with our seniors and our football team the seniors, they’ve worked extremely hard,” Badke said. “It has a lot to do with recruiting and these guys have high expectations to go and get Division 1 scholarships.”
State Series tournament decisions will be made on a sport-by-sport basis as each season progresses, but providing postseason opportunities remains a priority of the Board. This could potentially include culminating State Series Tournaments after Regional or Sectional rounds, or seeking other non-traditional means to conduct events.