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Football and wrestling expose CIAC's shortcomings

Football and wrestling. Surely, a kinship. Just look at most encounters at the line of scrimmage. And both sports require considerable levels of fortitude, too. The line doesn't form to the right for volunteers heading across the middle on a slant pattern in the eyes of an onrushing linebacker or to be bodyslammed on the mat, while wearing something called a singlet.

Sadly, the two sports hold a more doleful alliance now, victims of a COVID double whammy. High school athletes who partake of both sports watch as their vocations remain dark until the pandemic is over.

There aren't many words of comfort. It is unfortunate to be unable to play. But then, others have been stricken by the virus far more personally than having a season — or two — taken away. Perspective always requires balance.

It may be of no solace to the kids and coaches of both sports. But I believe that football and wrestling have — completely and totally — exposed the prevailing, enduring deficiencies of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state's governing body of high school athletics.

The CIAC's continued unwillingness to dive into details tugs at the legitimacy and efficacy of the entire operation. There could have been (and still could be) a time for abbreviated football and wrestling in 2021, if only CIAC officials showed greater willingness to think more critically and creatively.

The state Department of Public Health (DPH) has deemed football and wrestling "high risk" sports, presumably because of the participants' proximities. It led to the possibility of an "alternative" season for sports unable to start or finish, shoehorned between the winter and spring seasons of 2021.

CIAC officials nixed the idea of an alternate season last week, citing the delay in winter sports and a state moratorium on "high risk" activities until the end of the winter season (March 28). The Board of Control decreed that there will be a full spring season in 2021, thus making the window of opportunity for an alternate season too narrow.

What remains too narrow here is the CIAC's approach.

To wit: Why are CIAC officials acting through the prism of a finite calendar, especially during the novelties and vagaries of a pandemic? Why is there a timetable for this high school sports season to end? Provided it's not bordering on absurd and, for example, creeping toward August, why can't the spring season start later and continue into early July?

Not ideal under normal circumstances. But these are COVID circumstances. Old precepts must yield to new blueprints. Extending the season would allow more time for the football/wrestling alternative season, not to mention give the vaccine more time to work. Besides, it is the middle of January. Why are we making sweeping determinations now about what the situation may resemble at the end of March?

Also: It is understandable state officials want a full spring season, given the empty spring of 2020. But if the time required for a full spring season precludes football and wrestling from happening, why give spring athletes something no other group of athletes will have (a full season) during such unprecedented circumstances?

Why can't we start the spring season in May? Why can't it be abbreviated — as was the case for all the fall sports and now basketball? A later start also precludes some poor pitcher from trying to grip a curveball in 45-degree weather.

It's as if once CIAC officials get a thought in their minds, there is no room for discussion. It is what it is because it can be no other way. Any other way would be more work, effort and details. And so you toss out empty words of apology, a few bromides about COVID and get back to the original plan.

I believe this is the way the CIAC conducts itself toward many of the issues it chooses to benignly ignore, such as competitive balance and the restructuring of the sports calendar that currently allows football to be played too deep into December — and inconveniences other sports.

Maybe the kids of football and wrestling can use this as fuel. Go out, get educated and come back to run the new CIAC, where all ideas are welcome.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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