Mike Clark: Strike last thing kids need

SHARE Mike Clark: Strike last thing kids need
SHARE Mike Clark: Strike last thing kids need

As another prep football season kicks off, teams are facing the usual questions.

Which quarterback will win the starting job? Which new coach will get his system installed soonest? Where will the cutoffs fall for the eight classes in the state playoffs?

In the city, though, there’s a whole other level of uncertainty. The date circled on so many calendars isn’t the season opener or the state championship but Sept. 4 — the first day of classes for most Chicago Public Schools.

That also might be when teachers go on strike if their union and the Board of Education can’t agree on a new contract. If there is a walkout, a lot of things could happen — none of them good.

The loss of classroom time would be the most obvious fallout from a strike, but it hardly would be the only one. Extracurricular activities, including sports, also would be put on hold until an agreement is struck.

Per Illinois High School Association rules, sports shut down when schools go on strike. That would be bad news at any time for city kids, but it would be especially bad this year with the spike in gun violence. Kids need all the safe havens they can get right now, and CPS sports is the most comprehensive and cost-effective after-school program in Chicago.

To preserve that lifeline is reason enough to get a deal done before a strike happens — or at least before it drags on too long.

But if the games do stop, they eventually will resume. For most fall sports, anything short of a months-long shutdown could be dealt with. Volleyball and soccer teams could make up postponed games, and they’d still have the state playoffs to look forward to if they didn’t.

But football is a different animal. It’s the only sport with limited admission to the playoffs. Because of that, everyone’s wondering how the Public League would deal with a strike of more than a week or two. According to a source, there is a contingency plan. But no one is saying what the details are.

Among the interested observers is Craig Anderson, the IHSA assistant executive director in charge of football.

‘‘Really, all we can do is wait and see what happens if they go on strike and when they come back,’’ Anderson said.

There is some wiggle room in the CPS football schedule, which uses Week 9 to play the first round of the Public League playoffs. That week theoretically could be used for make-up games, with the city playoffs being delayed and possibly scaled back. But that’s about the extent of the flexibility available to Public League officials.

‘‘Only [IHSA executive director] Marty [Hickman] can approve some midweek games, and it’s very rare for him to do that once the season has started,’’ Anderson said.

There also might be ripple effects in football beyond the city if the strike is prolonged. Any games that can’t be made up would be considered double forfeits with no winner. That could hurt suburban or private-school foes of Public League teams because the first tiebreaker for playoff seeding is opponents’ victories.

But there is a bit of good news on another football-related issue: recruiting. Stopping the games wouldn’t have the adverse effect on Public League players’ college hopes now that it once did.

‘‘Ten years ago, it could have been devastating,’’ CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said.

Now, he said, ‘‘It’ll affect mainly the juniors. Most of the seniors have their offers already. Most of the colleges have turned [their focus] to their 2014 class.’’

And the affected juniors still could make up for the lack of 2012 highlight video by going to combines and performing well next season.

That, perhaps, is the silver lining to hold on to as we wait to see whether the sides can come together to avoid a walkout.

One way or another, this crisis will pass and life will get back to normal for football players and the rest of the CPS students.

All we can hope is that it happens sooner than later.

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