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It’s time for IHSA, Pritzker to work together

It appears we have another developing mess on our hands. Sources say communication between the governor’s office, the IDPH and the IHSA is still lousy.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker responds to questions during news conference in Chicago on Aug. 10.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker responds to questions during news conference in Chicago on Aug. 10.
Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times

It appears we have another developing mess on our hands with local high school sports.

At news conferences Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker both warned of a new wave of coronavirus infections. And the state’s latest testing numbers have destroyed recent positive momentum around starting winter sports on time.

Basketball teams are scheduled to begin practices Nov. 16, with games scheduled to begin Nov. 30. But that can’t happen unless Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health move “medium-risk” sports such as basketball to Level 3 under the IDPH’s pandemic guidelines for youth sports.

The IDPH has never announced exactly how that happens, nor said which statistics matter most in making such decisions. But with coronavirus numbers increasing all over the state, it’s unlikely the metric has been achieved.

The subject line of an Illinois High School Association email to reporters on Monday was “IHSA Board Eyes October 28 for Winter Sports Announcement.” The key word is “eyes,” which doesn’t sound definitive. IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said he expects a response from the IDPH “with final recommendations for winter sport plans, including any accommodations and postseason plans, by Oct. 26.” The IHSA has scheduled a special board meeting Oct. 28 to discuss those recommendations.

Don’t hold your breath on those dates. Sources say communication between the governor’s office, the IDPH and the IHSA is still lousy. That was a major issue this past summer, when fall sports plans were debated. Pritzker blindsided the IHSA with youth sports restrictions in a surprise move July 29 — literally while the IHSA was conducting a board meeting. It has been 83 days, and the state government and the IHSA are still not on the same page.

“We understand that student-athletes, coaches, parents, officials and fans are anxious to learn more details about the plans for IHSA winter sports,” Anderson said. “We feel like we are making positive strides in our discussions with the IDPH to be allowed to conduct winter sports as scheduled. We believe we have a plan to do so safely and want to provide IDPH with ample time to review the winter sports plans, and supportive data, we have provided them.”

It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the IHSA ignores the governor or anyone from the IDPH. What motivation would they have to do that? The IHSA is desperate to get sports started again in any form. It’s clear which side is having the communication issues — the side that’s also making the final decision.

That’s troubling, and it isn’t helpful to anyone. Whatever your opinion is, whether you think high school sports should be happening or not, we need Pritzker’s people and the IHSA to work together to make these plans and decisions. That’s the only sane way through this difficult time.