News on the basketball season slowly trickled out from schools around the state this week. The overwhelming majority announced that they did not intend to participate in the Illinois High School Association’s basketball season scheduled to begin this month.
The language in the announcements was similar. It seemed clear superintendents had been talking among themselves. The wording generally was that basketball teams would not start practice on Nov. 16 and were “awaiting further guidance from the IHSA and Illinois Department of Public Health.” Schools referred to “opting in” or “opting out.”
It’s unlikely that guidance is coming anytime soon, at least from the governmental side. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the IDPH and Illinois State Board of Education were fairly clear on their guidance: Basketball is delayed until spring. The IHSA deciding to start the season in November doesn’t necessarily force them to update or change anything.
Especially since so few teams have decided to go against the IDPH guidance and play. As of Friday, more than 150 schools had announced they would not play in November. Chicago, Springfield and Decatur public school districts are all waiting until spring. According to several sources the Southwest Suburban conference, which consists of ten very large public schools in the southwest suburbs, opted out on Friday.
Only five schools in the entire state (Lewiston, Lena-Winslow, Peoria Christian, Sherrard, and Yorkville Christian) have said they will play in November.
Multiple sources say that insurance companies are refusing to cover schools that start in November. That’s the major issue keeping superintendents and school boards from pulling the trigger and playing now. Many superintendents are allegedly upset with the IHSA for putting them in the decision making position. This could lead to superintendents pushing to be allowed on the IHSA’s board in the future, which is currently comprised of 10 principals and one athletic director.
While no schools in the area have committed to playing this season, a handful are reportedly starting practice on Nov. 16. Indications are that Kankakee, New Trier, Coal City and Oak Park may begin the “non-contact” practices that the IDPH guidelines currently allow.
The IHSA sent schools a survey on Friday with several questions related to basketball, including whether they would play in November and if they would be in favor of moving the season. IHSA spokesperson Matt Troha said there was no timeline on when or if the results would be revealed but that the IHSA board meets on Nov. 11 and would likely discuss it then.
Roxana, a school near Edwardsville in southern Illinois, is getting creative. The Shells have a plan to create a “pseudo-bubble” in which each school district would be responsible for creating a pod for athletes. Basketball players would share a classroom for their remote learning and eat together. Athletes would be required to obtain a COVID-19 test and any positive cases would result in 14-day quarantines.
Another idea making the rounds is to move basketball to the IHSA’s summer season, which runs from April 19 to June 26. The timing works nicely for basketball players, fitting right between the spring and summer club sessions. It could present a major problem for smaller schools that don’t have enough athletes to deal with the possible baseball/basketball overlap.
The IHSA’s November season appears dead in the water. It’s possible Chicago Catholic schools, which would like to play, find a way to and announce it next week. That would change the situation slightly, but it seems unlikely after dioceses in Rockford and Peoria announced they would not allow their schools to play.