BLOOMINGTON — Those hoping the latest IHSA Board of Directors meeting would inform high school athletes statewide about the fate of their winter, spring and summer sports seasons were left disappointed on Wednesday.
The status quo remains in place, as IHSA sports are staying paused in coordination with the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A Jan. 27 IHSA board special meeting is scheduled "to review sports schedule framework," according to a press release.
“We realize there is a desire for finality on a sports schedule for 2020-21," the IHSA board wrote in a statement. "However, we did not believe it would be prudent to lock ourselves into a schedule at a time when IHSA schools are unable to conduct any sports."
IHSA sports have been on hold since mid-November after Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced enhanced COVID-19 mitigations that impacted, among other matters, prep athletics.
The board is opening the door for contact days to begin "as soon as they are allowable per IDPH mitigations and local school guidance." One-on-one exercises between winter sports coaches and athletes as well as outdoor workouts for any sport in groups of 10 or fewer presently are the only school-associated workouts allowed under IDPH guidance.
"The IHSA acknowledges the immense mental, emotional and physical strain that a lack of contact with school programs is causing Illinois high school student-athletes,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said in a statement. “It is our intention that these contact days provide sport-specific training under the leadership of high school coaches. This is an effort to provide a viable sports option to high school athletes, given the growing number of student-athletes opting for higher risk opportunities within the state and across state lines."
The board wrote that the potential move of some Illinois regions from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in IDPH mitigations could open the door for return to play.
"Per Gov. Pritzker, we have hope that low-risk sports may be permitted in certain regions of the state as early as this Friday (Jan. 15)," the board wrote. "With that in mind, February seems like a realistic timeline to have sports resume statewide."
The board also indicated it has multiple plans in place for conducting athletics during the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
"We expect that the events of the next two weeks will go a long way toward informing our opinion on which scheduling option we decide to proceed with," the board wrote. "We recognize that if no sports have resumed by February, season lengths could be impacted in certain sports, and that we may need to take a longer look at the likelihood of true seasons being conducted in high-risk sports (like football, basketball and wrestling) this year."
Per the IHSA press release, when the state permits competition within lower-risk winter sports — bowling, competitive cheer and dance, girls' gymnastics and boys' swimming and diving — then "those teams will be allowed to begin practice immediately and then continue their season through the season calendar established by the board later this month."
Wednesday's board announcement follows a meeting one week ago between representatives of the IHSA, IESA, governor's office and IDPH.
"We remain collaborative in our efforts with IDPH and the governor’s office,” Anderson said. “We are trying to do our part to fight the pandemic, while simultaneously seeking safe participation opportunities for our student-athletes. ... We believe that school-based athletic participation is better regulated, making it the safest participation option for our students, and more data continues to emerge supporting that stance."