Friday was confusing. Documents were emailed to media. Websites that allegedly outline the state’s entire sports policy during coronavirus weren’t updated (and then they were). The Illinois High School Association had a last-minute meeting with Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz.
Gov. Pritzker hit on high school sports very briefly in his COVID-19 update.
There was some good news for high school athletes. Low-risk sports will be allowed when regions move to Tier 2. Rockford, Peoria and southern Illinois hit Tier 2 on Friday and some regions in the Chicago area could be there as early next week.
“There are regions that are moving into lower tiers of mitigations,” Pritzker said. “In those tiers there are [sports] that are opening up. That’s a good beginning.”
Low-risk sports (boys and girls bowling, cheerleading, dance, girls gymnastics and boys swimming and diving and badminton) will be allowed to play conference and intra-region games.
Medium-risk sports will be allowed to conduct full practices and high-risk sports (basketball and wrestling) will be allowed to hold no-contact practices in Tier 2. There are no IHSA medium-risk winter sports.
“This is certainly positive news for three regions of the state, but we still have a long way to go until we get all of our student-athletes back to being active,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “High school student-athletes are hurting from a mental, physical, and emotional standpoint, so we hope this is the first step toward getting that back to some normalcy.”
But if you look closely at one of the documents sent to the media from Pritzker’s office it becomes very clear the outlook for any high school basketball or football this school year is bleak.
Basketball and football are both high risk sports. According to the chart Pritzker’s office released today (see below), high risk sports will not be allowed to play games in Tier 2 or when things move to Tier 1.
The next rollback step after Tier 1 is called Phase 4. In order for regions to rollback to Phase 4 three things are required:
-Test positivity rate below 6.5% for 3 consecutive days (7-day average).
-Staffed hospital and ICU beds availability greater than 20% for 3 consecutive days (3-day average).
-No sustained increase in COVID patients in hospital (7-day average over 7 of 10 days).
Illinois moved to Phase 4 on June 26, 2020. The state remained there until Pritzker moved the entire state all the way back to Tier 3 on Nov. 20 as COVID-19 spiraled.
Is it possible the state could be back in Phase 4 by March or April? Sure, things are trending well now. But football and basketball were not allowed during Phase 4 in 2020. That means Pritzker would have to change his mind on the Phase 4 rules. If we even get to Phase 4 during the school year.
“Deputy Governor Ruiz was not clear today about what getting to Phase 4 would mean for the high-risk sports,” Anderson said. “He indicated that there could be a potential differentiation for football versus basketball because football is outdoors. The new All Sports Policy permitting an adjustment in playing levels going from Tier 2 to Tier 1 makes me think that a move to Phase 4 could create another adjustment, but IDPH or the Governor’s office would need to confirm that.”
Anderson’s quote makes it clear that basketball isn’t happening this school year. Football seems to have a slight chance.
The governor’s office has not responded to a request to confirm what Phase 4 would mean for high-risk sports.