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Contradictory H.S. sports rules leave many of us befuddled

And so today we wrestle with this maddening paradox: High school sports have never been more popular in our state and country ... and yet have never been managed with more contradiction and inconsistency.

If we've learned nothing else in the last 10 months, we know this much: Truth is negotiable amid the perils of a pandemic. None of this is easy. Still, I believe that any optimism some of us harbored about a potential spring football season ultimately fell somewhere between gullible and quixotic.

Worse, the dizzying layers of contradictory rules and ruminations from our fearless leaders leave many of us befuddled.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state's governing body of high school athletics, nixed the whole spring football thing Thursday. At the core of executive director Glenn Lungarini's comments on the issue came this pupu platter of old information about concussions and recovery periods for high school kids — and new information from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

A more cynical fellow would just call it The Big Lie.

"One of the main limiting factors (in the NFHS guidance) was if you play spring football you reduced the number of games you play the following fall because of the exposure of concussions and contacts within the calendar year," Lungarini said. "We anticipate being able to have a fall season next year. That was a significant consideration for the board (Thursday).

"When you have the leading expert on interscholastic and youth sports, and their sport medicine advisory committee issued guidance to us for states considering spring football, it's important you take that information and review its relevance."

Translation: The national governing board just issued an edict saying that football games in the spring would compromise the number of games played in the fall. We're learning here, apparently, that NFHS just had an epiphany about recovery times for high school football players — and that CIAC officials have actually spent time discussing issues like recovery times among themselves.

If that's the case, then our current policies need to be explained and updated.

Example: A normal high school football season ends with state championship games on or about Dec. 10 here in Connecticut. Generally speaking, winter sports practices have already begun.

And yet a football player, in the days after the state championship game — after enduring the full, physical nature of football since the middle of August — can jump right onto the wrestling mat and begin practicing.

How come "recovery times" aren't relevant here?

What, wrestling doesn't require an appreciable amount of physicality, too? Are football players' bodies truly ready to be tossed around on a mat like horseshoes at the family picnic after four months of football?

But NFHS, with a presumably straight face, wants us to believe that we are endangering the health of kids by subjecting them to football in March and April, three months off and then practice again in August.

I'm sure I've heard something dumber in my life. But honestly, it'll take me a while to think of it.

That is inconsistent. It is contradictory. It is absurd. It demands further review. It is why many of us remain suspicious as to the earnestness of the work being done here to guide the games our kids play.

It's not fun being so cynical. But what other conclusion is to be drawn here? Football seasons (one of which is abbreviated) three months apart are more dangerous than football and wrestling three days apart? Have they ever watched what is required of high school wrestlers? They need to be tougher than Clorox.

COVID-19 numbers might have precluded a spring season from happening. I get that. I just find the timing of all this suspiciously convenient. It's either an indictment of the leadership at NFHS or something for the CIAC to hide behind. Either way, the policy making here is woefully inconsistent.

Normally, this is the time for an absorbing, "the kids deserve better." Actually, we all do. But now when I think about the vision for high school sports both in the state and nationally, I think about one of my favorite bumper stickers: "Since I gave up all hope, I feel much better."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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