IHSA releases revised sports plan, moving football, other sports to spring

The governing body for high school athletics in Illinois, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA),  decided Wednesday to push football and other fall sports to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

IHSA says the plan has been sent to the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) for final approval.

Due to COVID-19, the Board prososed scheduling adjustments to improve safety for student athletes, coaches and staff.

“This plan, like nearly every aspect of our current lives, remains fluid,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “Changes may come, and if they do, we will be agile while putting safety and students first. It was important that we provide a framework today for our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and officials to begin preparing for the 2020-21 school year.”

IHSA's decision to move football, boys soccer and volleyball to a February-to-May season came hours after Gov. J.B. Pritzker barred interscholastic play for contact or intense sports such as football, wrestling and competitive cheering and dance because of the ease with which the coronavirus can spread.

Pritzker released a list of more than three dozen sports, from boxing to bass fishing, which are ranked in terms of their risk for transmitting the highly contagious and potentially fatal virus, and accompanied by appropriate levels of participation.

“This virus is unrelenting, and it spreads so easily that no amount of restrictions seems to keep it off the playing field ...,” Pritzker said. “The toughest choice is also the safest choice.”

IHSA says that boys and girls golf, girls tennis, cross country and girls swimming & diving will remain as fall sports, and will start on August 10 as scheduled.

“I applaud our Board of Directors for choosing a model that allows every student-athlete the opportunity for a modified season,” said Anderson. “Based on our recent conversations, it is our expectation that today’s plan meets all of IDPH’s safety guidelines and will be approved.”

The condensed 2020-2021 season dates are listed below:

Fall:                  August 10 to October 24
Winter:             November 16 to February 13
Spring:             February 15 to May 1
Summer:         May 3 to June 26

“The Board believes this plan offers the most realistic chance for student-athletes to participate in interscholastic sports while balancing the challenges of a new academic setting and IDPH Guidelines,” said Erie High School Principal and IHSA Board President Tim McConnell. “We are an education-based athletic association, and school has to come first. By delaying the majority of the team sports in the fall, it will allow our schools and students the chance to acclimate to what will be, for many, a totally new educational experience. We will do our best to try to give every student-athlete the opportunity for a season this school year.”

State Series tournament decisions will be made as each season progresses, but the Board says they plan to prioritize providing postseason opportunities.

“I understand that today’s announcement will be met with mixed emotions,” said Anderson. “Our staff and Board have heard from thousands of people over the past few weeks with ideas, opinions, and proposals on how we should proceed. We respect and understand their passion, because we share in it. It is a great reminder that if we want high school sports to return to normal, we all need to do our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The Board has also extended the current "Phase 4 Return To Play Guidelines," which will allow sports played in the winter, spring and summer seasons to allow an additional 20 days of contact for schools between September 7 and October 31.

The Board has confirmed that IHSA by-laws do not prevent schools who are utilizing remote learning from participating in IHSA sports and activities. 

Regardless of the learning plan a school is using, participation will remain a school and district decision.

Further details on sport seasons and practice limitations will be released to IHSA schools following final approval of the plan.

The chart below outlines the new IHSA schedule for the 2020-21 school year:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.