Some pros and cons of the IHSA's new prep sports plan

  • Benet's volleyball team will get a chance to defend its Class 4A state championship, but not until spring under the IHSA's four-season plan for high school sports.

      Benet's volleyball team will get a chance to defend its Class 4A state championship, but not until spring under the IHSA's four-season plan for high school sports. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Warren's football team reached the Class 8A state championship game in 2019.

      Warren's football team reached the Class 8A state championship game in 2019. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/1/2020 10:15 AM

When the Illinois High School Association unveiled its sports plan for the 2020-21 school year, the positives were clear.

So were the negatives.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With a few days to reflect since Wednesday's announcement, it's time to walk through some of the good and bad.

Pro: Everyone gets to play.

Kudos to the IHSA for creating a calendar that allows every sport to compete.

Dedicated athletes and coaches worried about a flat-out cancellation of sports, a fear that grew in the last month as the state's COVID-19 numbers started trending in the wrong direction.

But the IHSA did the right thing. By moving football, boys soccer and girls volleyball from fall to spring and by adding a fourth "summer" season, there's a window big enough for everyone to play.

Con: Will everyone get to play?

Does the IHSA honestly think wrestling practice can start Nov. 16?

Much of the scheduling is wishful thinking. There are also concerns about basketball games starting Nov. 30.

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There are three designated risk levels for the different sports (low, medium and high) and four tiers of activity based on the risk level. The medium-risk sports like basketball are allowed to scrimmage at Level 2. Actual games can't take place until Level 3.

Can basketball advance to Level 3 in time for the winter season?

Pro: Flipping good.

Even hard-core prep football fans realized the only hope for a season was to switch the sport to the spring.

The IHSA smartly flipped football to a window of Feb. 15 to May 1 in recognition that everything must be done to salvage the king of prep sports. The move buys much needed time for the pandemic numbers to ease and hopefully allows football and the other flipped contact sports -- girls volleyball and boys soccer -- to compete.

Con: Not enough flipping.

While it's great that cross country, golf, girls tennis and girls swimming will compete this fall, why weren't more designated low-risk sports added to the fall schedule?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We're looking at you, baseball and softball.

Sports placed in the newly-created "summer" season of May 3 to June 26 have a shorter window of competition than the other three seasons, which isn't fair after those were the sports canceled in the spring when the pandemic began.

Pro: Way to be flexible!

With a competitive window from August to the end of June, there's a decent amount of wiggle room to make changes depending on the status of the pandemic.

If basketball can't start at the end of November, there's an option to delay. If football can't play in the spring, baseball and softball could slide into that season and enjoy a deserved full slate of games.

It's understandable to be upset about what a particular sports season looks like now, but nothing's set in stone.

Con: Is it too flexible?

It's difficult for athletic directors to tear up existing schedules and adjust on the fly to a four-season calendar that stretches to July. If sports begin shifting from one week or month to the next, it'll be chaos trying to create a slate of competitions for each sport.

If there's concern about being able to play basketball and football, why weren't they moved to later calendar slots? In turn, the IHSA could have shifted the lower-risk sports to earlier seasons.

The flexibility could end up creating logistical nightmares.

Pro: IHSA did its homework.

The IHSA deserves credit for the thought put into the process.

It was a no-win situation bouncing between the Governor's office, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health. The IHSA couldn't please everyone with its plan, and the howling began as soon as it was unveiled.

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said Wednesday the IHSA prepared five different plans to present to the IDPH. After Plans A, B and C weren't accepted, they settled on Plan D.

I can only imagine what Plan E looked like.

Con: Did the IHSA look at surrounding states?

The IHSA stayed in contact with several high school associations, and in the IHSA plan you'll notice elements of other plans and guidance from the National Federation of High School Associations.

But there's no ignoring the surrounding states as they release less-restrictive plans despite dealing with worse COVID-19 numbers than Illinois. Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Michigan all aim to play football in the fall.

The COVID-19 positivity rate in Illinois is nearly half of some surrounding states, and critics are wondering why the IHSA plan remains so restrictive.

Time will tell if the football seasons in other states get off the ground later this month.

Twitter: @kevin_schmit

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