Answering some key questions about state's plan for high school sports

  • Cross county will be one of the few fall sports competing under the IHSA's new plan announced on Wednesday.

      Cross county will be one of the few fall sports competing under the IHSA's new plan announced on Wednesday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Naperville North freshman Josh Covick holds a side plank during the football team's conditioning drills.

      Naperville North freshman Josh Covick holds a side plank during the football team's conditioning drills. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Updated 7/31/2020 5:38 AM

Don't worry, my head was spinning as well on Wednesday.

It began with Governor J.B. Pritzker announcing the guidelines for Illinois sports moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic, a list of risk levels and activity tiers I'll file away with the phases and stages I'm still learning.


Then the Illinois High School Association unveiled its plan for prep sports for the 2020-21 school year. Football, girls volleyball and boys soccer all moved to the spring while golf, cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming remain in the fall.

In between those bullet points are a new summer season and a long list of lingering questions.

We're here to answer (some of) them.

Who benefits from the IHSA plan?

Football coaches, players, parents and fans had to be thrilled.

Every level of the sport is in turmoil. The Bill George and Chicagoland Youth Football leagues canceled their seasons, the NCAA situation is fluid at best and the NFL is still trying to get its preseason off the ground.

The Illinois prep football community was terrified about the season being canceled completely, but the IHSA came through by shifting football to the new "spring" season of Feb. 5 to May 1. Expect a six or seven-game regular season with a couple of playoff games.

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Who's hurt by the plan?

Spring sports can't catch a break.

First, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the entire 2020 spring season and now those sports are stuck with a summer season that's shorter than any of the other seasons. They're limited to only two contests a week between May 17 and June 26, and sports like baseball and softball will conflict directly with travel programs.

Can athletes eLearn and play sports?

That's up to each individual school district.

If a district starts the school year with 100 percent remote learning, it's possible they'll say no to fall sports as well. Some districts, however, already have said they'll allow fall sports as long as safety protocols are followed.

About these tiers ... what metrics dictate how we advance?

Great question, but there's no answer.

There's a chart of four activity levels. Level 1 is basic conditioning, Level 2 allows scrimmages, Level 3 allows limited games and Level 4 is wide-open competition.

Low-risk sports right now can participate in the first three levels while medium-risk sports like basketball are limited to the first and second level. High-risk sports like football are in Level 1.


How does football advance to Level 2, 3 and 4? No clue.

The Illinois Department of Health provided no metrics for progressing from one level to the next.

Basketball is a medium-risk sport but cheerleading is high-risk. How did that happen?

IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said the risk levels were determined by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

What will sports schedules look like?

Most sports outside the fall season will be limited to two contests per week.

In Level 3, only conference matchups and nonconference contests within each of the state's COVID-19 regions are allowed. The Cook County suburbs are a region, DuPage and Kane counties are a region, and Lake and McHenry counties are a region.

As for the postseason, that's up in the air. Expect something similar to a regional championship in most sports.

What about invites and tournaments?

Because of limitations on gatherings and distancing, the many sports that rely on regular-season tournaments and invitationals need to find another way to compete.

That includes the fall sports of golf, cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming.

What's the definition of a gathering?

Another great question without an answer.

Current guidelines limit gatherings to 50 or fewer but what does that mean on a giant golf course or a massive cross country course?

As for spectators, don't expect much leniency. It'll be extremely difficult for any sport to allow spectators right now.

What about masks?

Through all of Wednesday's media releases and press conferences, one word was notably missing: Masks.

If you're practicing or playing inside a school, mask-wearing likely will be a mandate from the Illinois State Board of Education.

The mask situation outside shouldn't be a problem for the fall sports of golf and tennis because of the natural distancing. A mask requirement doesn't apply to swimming.

Cross country? That's where the mask issue really needs to be settled right now.

Where do I sign up for a transfer?

Already there are athletes who have announced they're moving to other states so they can compete without restrictions.

And get this ... IHSA bylaws allow transferring between states as long as it's an entire family moving (you can't just ship off a kid to an uncle in Iowa).

So a football player and his family could move to Iowa, play the fall football season there and move back to Illinois to play the spring football season here. Transfers could be headed this direction, too.

Welcome to the 2020-21 school year ... it's going to be a wild ride.

Twitter: @kevin_schmit

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