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State officials unmoved on fall football after CIAC's presentation

If the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference decides to move forward with a high school football season in the fall, it will do so without the blessing of the state Department of Public Health or Gov. Ned Lamont.

After the CIAC and DPH met for nearly three-hours Friday in Hartford to discuss the CIAC's new strategies for mitigating the risk of transmission of COVID-19 while playing football, acting commissioner Deidre Gifford sent a letter to the CIAC Monday reaffirming its recommendation to replace traditional football, a high-risk sport, with a low- or moderate-risk version of the sport, or postponing the season until the spring.

"DPH continues to recommend substituting athletic or any other activities that could be considered 'moderate risk' or 'lower risk' in place of 'higher risk' ones and/or postponing those activities to a later time when other public health strategies may be more available and better studied," Gifford wrote in the letter.

The DPH encouraged the CIAC to continue to work with its sports medicine committee and the National Federation of High Schools to "determine whether CIAC's proposed mitigation strategies meet the standards set forth by NFHS to consider a reduced risk categorization for football or any other 'higher risk' sports, as categorized by the NFHS."

The issue is not just limited to Connecticut. Seventeen states are going ahead with their seasons. But Connecticut neighbors New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, are among 18 states that decided not to play 11-on-11 football this fall. Vermont has moved to a 7-on-7 model.

"The CIAC has received DPH's review of the mitigating strategies presented at last Friday's meeting," CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said in a statement. "The letter from DPH has been forwarded to the CIAC Board of Control voting members. The CIAC thanks DPH for its detailed response and guidance. The CIAC Board of Control will convene in the next few days, and an update will (be) provided after that meeting."

At his Monday press briefing, Gov. Lamont reiterated his belief that football should be postponed until 2021.

"I do think it's much safer if that season was put off until February," Lamont said.

All fall sports are currently allowed to condition in small cohorts, with full-team, full-contact practices due to start on Sept. 21. Games will begin on Oct. 1. Football teams are permitted to practice, but cannot play games. The CIAC has said it does not intend to move any sports canceled in the fall to the spring.

On Sept. 4, the CIAC announced that it wouldn't play full-contact, 11-on-11 football in the fall. But after an estimated 1,200 people attended a player-organized rally at the Capitol last Wednesday, Lamont called for the DPH and CIAC to meet Friday to further discuss the viability of a fall football season.

At that meeting, the CIAC proposed a full-contact season in the fall with a number of modifications in place, including requiring players to wear a mask or face shield while playing, having "stations" for players to keep water and equipment, extending the sideline box to make social distancing easier and allowing no more than 10 coaches and 45 players on each sideline.

School superintendents will have the final say on whether their respective districts can participate in the season.

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