Basketball coach association survey says play, but uncertainty lingers for winter sports
The wait is about over for so many people wondering if high school basketball will be played this winter in Illinois.
Currently, only scrimmages and workouts are allowed with players wearing masks. As a medium risk sport, basketball needs to move from Level 2 to Level 3 in the Illinois Department of Public Health's COVID guidelines for games against other schools to happen.
The IHSA set a special board meeting for Oct. 28 to announce more details about winter sports.
The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association tried to help influence that decision. They recently conducted a survey of 797 high school basketball coaches to collect data about contact days and whether schools have had a problem with COVID outbreaks since the workouts began in September.
West Aurora coach Brian Johnson is on the IBCA board. He said the survey was intended to help the IDPH and IHSA make decisions about starting the season.
"It was just to get an overall feel of how much COVID has affected different schools and if there are different issues with masks and if coaches would feel comfortable with a season starting on time," Johnson said. "The IBCA is trying to show our support for the IHSA. We feel the IHSA is doing everything possible to allow us to have the season. A lot depends on the IDPH and going from Level 2 to 3. I know people are frustrated with what's going on with football and with states around us."
Illinois certainly has been on an island this fall with surrounding Midwestern states playing football, girls volleyball and boys soccer.
Now the million dollar question is what happens with basketball. With COVID cases rising throughout the state, there's been a growing sense the season is in jeopardy.
"I was definitely more positive a month ago," Johnson said. "Hearing what the governor has to say and what's going on in general I am more 50-50 right now to where I was 80-20 for a season a few weeks ago."
The survey says
Obviously the coaches won't be the ones who decide if there is a season, but the survey results showed they want one with 95 percent voting to start the season on time and 81 percent believing their schools would permit that. Eighteen percent said they were uncertain if their school would be ready for the proposed start date, which is Nov. 16 for practice and Nov. 30 games.
Results also showed that of the schools using contact days this fall, 91 percent had no COVID cases. Of the nine percent that had cases, only two schools had an outbreak of more than three.
The IBCA came to this conclusion:
"Based on the data collected from our survey, among many other reasons, we believe that the mitigations and health guidelines in place have proved to be successful in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while student-athletes participate in basketball activities. It is because of this we are advocating for basketball to move to Level 3 in the IDPH youth sports guidelines in time for the start of the 2020-21 winter season."
Plenty of speculation
Until the official announcement is made, all that's left for now is speculation and what-ifs.
If there is a season, it almost certainly will be played with no fans and players wearing masks. The general feeling is that's better than no basketball, but there also will be issues with the masks sliding off during play, how the officials handle that with everything else they are watching during a game, and what that's like for players competing that hard and repeatedly sprinting up and down the court with a mask on.
If there's not a season, there will be all kinds of teams forming to play in weekend shootouts in Wisconsin and Indiana.
If the season can't start on time in November, will the IHSA postpone until January? Will the COVID numbers be any better by then?
If there's no basketball, and wrestling likely gets moved to the summer season, that leaves boys swimming, boys and girls bowling and girls gymnastics as the lower risk sports that can hold seasons similar to what's happened this fall with low-risk sports like golf and tennis. Winter sports cheerleading and dance are categorized as higher risk sports.
Johnson and his colleagues certainly have been thinking of all those possibilities -- and more.
"As coaches I don't think many are looking at it as I have a chance to win a lot of games and more this is tough for our seniors," Johnson said. "My senior year we had a lot of success at St. Edward and I can't imagine how I would see things differently if I did not have a season and going through the camaraderie and battles we had and some upset victories. You develop really strong relationships and bonds with your teammates that I still have to this day. I can't imagine not giving our players that chance to feel what it is like to go through a postseason or have a senior night. It's unfortunate and it's heartbreaking."