The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Board of Directors met for a special meeting on Wednesday, where the board announced its intended plans for the 2020-21 school year. The plan has been sent to the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) for final approval.
“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.”
The COVID-19 pandemic led the board to propose unprecedented scheduling changes for the 2020-21 school year. They include playing all sports over the course of truncated fall, winter, spring, and summer seasons. As a result, several team sports will shift to new seasons, including football, boys soccer, and girls volleyball moving from the fall to the spring.
“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.”
IHSA boys and girls golf, girls tennis, cross country and girls swimming & diving will remain as fall sports, and can proceed to start on August 10 as scheduled. Per Governor Pritzker’s announcement on Wednesday, fall sports will begin with competition limited to conference opponents and other schools in the same general geographical area. Schools will be provided more details in the coming week about the scheduling limits, and scheduling will continue to be assessed throughout each season. The condensed 2020-21 season dates will be as follows:
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 on a sport-by-sport basis as each season progresses, but providing postseason opportunities remains a priority of the board. This could potentially include culminating State Series Tournaments after Regional or Sectional rounds, or seeking other non-traditional means to conduct events.
“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 also extended the current Phase 4 Return To Play Guidelines, which will allow sports slated to be played in the winter, spring and summer seasons to allow an additional 20 days of contact for schools between September 7 and October 31 following IDPH Phase 4 Guidelines.
The Board also verified that IHSA by-laws do not prevent schools who are conducting remote learning from participating in IHSA sports and activities. Participation will remain a local school and district decision, regardless of the learning plan a high school is utilizing.
The Board discussed IHSA activities for the 2020-21 school year but did not take any action. The IHSA’s activity offerings include Bass Fishing, Chess, Debate, Drama & Group Interpretation, Individual Events, Journalism, Music & Scholastic Bowl.
“We believe we can still offer many of our activities via virtual contests,” said Anderson. “The Board has asked our staff to investigate those possibilities, and we will report back soon on if and how each can be held.”
Further details on items such as sport season and practice limitations will be released to IHSA schools following IDPH approval of the plan.