IHSA defies Gov. Pritzker, says basketball season can start on schedule

The Illinois High School Association announced Wednesday that the basketball season can start as scheduled. It’s a totally unexpected move that directly contradicts the guidelines Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health outlined on Tuesday.

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Notre Dame players during practice on July 6, 2020.

Notre Dame players during practice on July 6, 2020.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The Illinois High School Association announced Wednesday that the basketball season can start as scheduled. It’s a totally unexpected move that directly contradicts the guidelines Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health outlined on Tuesday.

Pritzker and the IDPH put winter sports on an indefinite hold and moved basketball from a medium-risk sport to a higher-risk sport in the IDPH guidelines.

‘‘As with sports in the fall, nothing is ‘canceled,’ just put on hold until we’re through the thick of this pandemic,’’ Pritzker said in a statement on Tuesday.

The disagreement between the IHSA and the governor/IDPH likely means the final decision will come down to the individual school districts. Theoretically the school districts would open themselves up to tremendous liability by playing against the guidelines of the governor and the IDPH.

Pritzker seemed confident that was the case when asked about the issue on Wednesday.

“We’ve told school districts what the rules are and I think they all know,” Pritzker said. “So IHSA may have their views of it but school districts know what the rules are and it’s unfortunate but they would probably be taking on legal liability if they went ahead and moved beyond what the state has set as the mitigation standard.” 

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson admitted that he wasn’t sure what impact defying the governor and the IDPH’s guidelines could have on schools.

“I really don’t know what is going to happen from now till Nov. 30,” Anderson said. “It’s a big deal to say to government officials and health departments that we are going to go a different direction from how you are advising. I have no idea how that is going to play out for us.”

Some local athletic directors worried that defying the government agencies could result in the Illinois State Board of Education withholding funding.

“I haven’t had time to think about that,” Anderson said. “I guess that is a possibility. I would hope that wouldn’t be the case.”

According to the IHSA calendar, basketball practices are scheduled to start on Nov. 16 and the first games can be played on Nov. 30. The board said teams would have to adhere to the IDPH guidelines that say teams can only play within their COVID regions and their conference.

“After diligent discussion, the board has made the decision today to follow the recommendation of the [IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee] as it relates to basketball,” the IHSA board said in a statement. “The board remains considerate of rising COVID-19 cases in Illinois and understand the importance of adhering to safety guidelines for the good of all citizens. however, the Board has not been presented any causal evidence that rising COVID-19 cases make basketball more dangerous to play by the IDPH or any other health organization nationally or internationally.”

The IHSA board said schools would have to follow the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee’s mitigations, which stipulate that players, coaches and officials wear masks.

“Illinois is a large and diverse state, and the IHSA membership is reflective of that,” the IHSA board said in a statement. “We understand that this decision will impact each high school and district differently. Some schools who remain in remote learning may not be able to start winter sports on time, and we feel for those in that situation. However, we have also learned that we cannot continue to look down the road to a season that may never come.”

The IHSA board also voted to move wrestling from the winter season to the summer season, which starts on April 19.

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