Wednesday was the longest day of my professional career.
It already was expected to be nothing short of bonkers as we all awaited the Illinois High School Association’s announcement on the status of the 2020-21 sports season, but we collectively were thrown for another loop when Gov. J.B. Pritzker shocked us with his announcement of the new sports guidelines created in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Public Health.
And after we got the news from the IHSA later in the day, the two items seemed to sync up well. Through all of the scenarios that gained traction during the past couple weeks, as it seemed more and more clear we wouldn’t have a traditional fall, a four-sport season wasn’t something thrown around much.
There were the ideas of swapping fall and spring sports, save for the low-risk sports that will continue to be held in the fall.
There was the idea of starting the sports calendar in January with winter sports and moving fall sports to a window between the normal winter and spring seasons.
The idea of keeping things scheduled as normal, perhaps with delays of a couple weeks, was the most popular from fans and student-athletes or even a hybrid of those ideas.
The plan the IHSA, in conjunction with Gov. Pritzker and the IDPH’s guidelines, isn’t perfect, but the two combine to give perhaps the most comprehensible and detailed outlines of what we should expect moving forward.
The biggest complaint I have noticed thus far lies with the IDPH guidelines. The guidelines don’t really specify when sports can move from one tier to another in its Types of Play Levels. The note that sports will be able to move up and down “as public health conditions change and new information becomes available,” according to the state’s coronavirus information website, doesn’t provide absolute clarity.
I see how that can be frustrating, but one also has to remember we’re undergoing a pandemic no one alive has seen before and society never has seen at a time when there are so many activities, jobs, etc. to worry about. The fact there is a plan, including one that separates sports based on their risk, is a great sign.
The IHSA held up its end of the bargain as well. The decision to potentially put a temporary stop to the state series, where the money primarily comes in, wasn’t easy, but it allowed every sport a chance to compete by creating the four seasons.
It also allowed fall sports that have the lowest risk concerning the coronavirus — golf, cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming and diving — to play when they normally would.
There definitely are going to be bumps in the road, likely significant obstacles. Certain teams at certain schools will have to prematurely shut down because of virus outbreaks. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see a way wrestling will start on time, if at all, with the intense levels of contact.
There will be other sports and seasons that also shuffle around as we continue to try to accommodate as much normalcy in a world that is anything but normal, which is why some seasons are spread over a longer amount of time than others, a protective measure in case certain sports aren’t given the green light on time that are at higher coronavirus transmission risk.
But as the IHSA, IDPH and Governor’s Office showed Wednesday, there will be sports. It won’t be the usual season, and we likely won’t have many true state champions crowned, if any at all. But this plan is better than the uncertainty we had 24 hours ago, and it’s better than giving up.
Sports teaches its players and its fans one thing for certain: We are not allowed to give up.