Prepare for the worst

Realities of the pandemic will dictate when basketball starts — if it begins at all.

Bolingbrook’s Darius Burford (10) shoots the ball over Homewood-Flossmoor.

Bolingbrook’s Darius Burford (10) shoots the ball over Homewood-Flossmoor.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The basketball season starts Monday. Really, it does. Sort of.

The Illinois High School Association’s schedule says that basketball teams, boys and girls, can begin practice Monday. Teams must follow the Illinois Department of Public Health’s safety guidance, which only allows “no-contact practices and trainings.” That’s generally assumed to mean conditioning and some drills.

This is where things get more complicated. The IHSA said Thursday that it will provide “more direction on basketball practice and games” after a meeting this Thursday. So the season consists of three days of conditioning and then waiting to see what happens. Only a handful of teams in the state have said they will start up Monday, which is understandable.

The IHSA invited representatives from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health to attend the meeting. There’s no word on whether they will. And really, should they?

For months, most of the high school-sports world has clamored for the IHSA and Pritzker to work together and figure things out one way or another. But even that seems a bit pointless. There isn’t anything to work out.

It’s impossible to see a scenario in which Pritzker allows basketball to start up anytime soon. Remember, he said it would have to wait until spring even before the recent massive uptick in COVID-19 cases. That isn’t changing.

The IHSA’s statement last Thursday was an attempt to lessen the tension between the two parties.

“The decision to move forward with the IHSA basketball season was not meant to be adversarial,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said in the statement. “It was rooted in a desire to receive more direct communication and data from our state partners.”

Easing the political drama is good for everyone, and kudos to the IHSA for taking the first step.

However, Pritzker and the IDPH clearly don’t value the IHSA’s opinions on health and safety. They are going to make decisions on when it’s safe to play, and the IHSA will have to deal with the scheduling fallout. That’s where we are now. Whatever anyone thinks or hopes or wants to happen, that’s what’s happening. So the next step is clear. The IHSA needs to focus on preparing a multitude of options.

A schedule needs to be set up for if the virus magically dwindles in January and sports can start. We need one for a February start. We need one for the most likely scenario, which is starting up in March. Hopefully a schedule in which all the sports get to play much shorter seasons could work at that point.

The IHSA even needs to start preparing the schedules no one wants to see. The one without any high-risk sports. It’s very possible Pritzker and the IDPH won’t allow high-risk indoor sports at all this school year. Prepare for that scenario.

The politics are over. It’s all in Pritzker’s hands. The insurance companies essentially made that decision for everyone when they refused to cover the school districts that played sports against the IDPH and Pritzker’s recommendation.

It’s time to stop stringing along the students, coaches and fans and accept that high school sports aren’t going to go how anyone wanted this year. So get the scheduling options together and be ready to go when it’s allowed.

End the drama. Let the athletes and fans know where they stand and hope for the best.

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