There will not be any high school football in Illinois this fall.
That announcement was expected to come from the Illinois High School Association on Wednesday afternoon. But Gov. J.B. Pritzker used his COVID-19 news conference to scoop the IHSA and announce new restrictions and guidelines for youth, high school and adult recreational sports.
It took IHSA executive director Craig Anderson by surprise. Anderson had been in regular contact with Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz over the last week and a half.
“The governor was originally going to speak at 2:30, not noon,” Anderson said. “We were in the middle of [the IHSA board meeting] when I got a text saying the governor moved his press conference up.”
Students and parents all over the state were eagerly awaiting the news at 2 p.m. Pritzker’s surprise announcement further politicized the contentious debate over when and if to restart high school sports.
The IHSA unveiled its ambitious new plan three hours after Pritzker laid out his restrictions. No sport has been canceled; they will all be squeezed into a four-season schedule.
The major change has football, girls volleyball and boys soccer moving from the fall to the spring season.
“That is a huge relief for me,” Dunbar football player Mekel Fowler said. “I was really worried about the possibility of it being canceled. I’m grateful for the opportunity to play out my final year and have the chance to put more highlights on film for college coaches.”
According to the IHSA’s new calendar, several sports will start Aug. 10, including golf, girls tennis, cross-country and girls swimming.
The high school sports year, which traditionally was divided into three seasons, will consist of four shortened seasons. Fall will run from Aug. 10 to Oct. 24. Winter is Nov. 16 to Feb. 13, spring will be Feb. 15 to May 1 and the new summer season will run from May 3 to June 26.
Fall sports include boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys and girls cross-country and girls swimming and diving.
Winter sports are basketball, wrestling, boys swimming, cheerleading, dance, bowling and girls gymnastics.
Football, boys soccer, girls volleyball, badminton, gymnastics and water polo will be in the spring.
Baseball, softball, track and field, girls soccer, boys volleyball, lacrosse and boys tennis will run in the summer.
“My initial reaction is that it stinks,” Kenwood football coach Sinque Turner said. “It is going to impact football players that graduate early. If anything I thought they would cut some games and push us back to September. I thought the spring season was just a rumor. It stinks, but I understand why things are going the way they are.”
The plan for state tournaments remains slightly up in the air. Anderson said that the chances of hosting a basketball state championship tournament at the State Farm Center in Champaign next year aren’t very good. He also warned that the dates the IHSA is shooting for are optimistic.
“I won’t be surprised if we get to Nov. 16 and the [Illinois Department of Public Health] says we aren’t in a position to commence with those sports,” Anderson said. “That’s really hopeful thinking on our part, and it is likely closer to early or even mid-December.”
Anderson and the IHSA are clearly ready to change things on the fly in the 2020-21 school year.
Each sport starting up will depend on the state meeting certain coronavirus metrics. Anderson said the governor’s office had not specified exactly what those metrics will be, and they are not mentioned in the sports restrictions plan Pritzker unveiled Wednesday.
“These are incredibly important moments in the lives of our children,” Pritzker said. “When the multibillion-dollar sports leagues with multimillion-dollar athletes are struggling to protect their players, it is obvious there won’t be enough protection for kids on our schools’ playing fields.
“The NBA has resorted to containing its players in a bubble to press on with its season. MLB is facing down a major outbreak. This virus is unrelenting, and it spreads so easily that no amount of restrictions seems to keep it off the playing field.”
Pritzker’s guidelines divide sports into three risk levels: lower, medium and higher. The sports in each risk level are allowed different amounts of play based on current public-health conditions.
Pritzker’s full guidelines are here.
According to the state’s current conditions, the lower-risk sports (tennis, baseball, golf) will be allowed to have local games. Medium-level sports (basketball) can have no-contact practices.
Thirty-eight states are planning to play high school football in the fall, including all five states that border Illinois. Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, North Carolina and Oregon haven’t made a decision yet. California, Washington-D.C, Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada and Washington have also moved football to the spring.
The IHSA’S new calendar
Fall: Aug. 10 to Oct. 24
Girls swimming and diving
Winter: Nov. 16 to Feb. 13
Boys swimming and diving
Spring: Feb. 15 to May 1
Boys/girls water polo
Summer: May 3 to June 26
Boys/girls track and field