PROVIDENCE — Football is a sport where preparation is everything. That’s why it was paramount for the state’s high school football sector to avoid the wait-and-see approach to play games that hovered over winter sports for a few weeks.
Four days into the first week of practice, the long-awaited green light has come. Through an announcement made by DEM Director Janet Coit during Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing at Vets Auditorium, football is no longer a high-risk sport. It’s been shifted to the moderate-risk category with clearance for games to begin in conjunction with the R.I. Interscholastic League’s upcoming Fall 2 season.
Forced to sit out the traditional fall months, football can proceed forward knowing that every rep that’s taken between now and the first games on March 26 will be meaningful.
A dramatic pivot in football’s fortunes wouldn’t have been permissible if the state’s COVID-19 figures remained alarmingly high.
As the positive rate has decreased since the start of the year, another piece of data proved to be handy in helping all concerned parties arrive at the conclusion that was rendered Thursday.
During the fall of 2020, 33 states participated in outdoor contact football. The list included New Jersey and New Hampshire — two states the RIIL has been in frequent contact with throughout the quest of reopening interscholastic sports in a safe manner. None of those 33 states saw their seasons end in premature fashion. Six of the 33 states took the field without a mask requirement.
Closer to home, Rhode Island’s schedule is similar to what was adopted by Massachusetts and the state of New York. Then there was Connecticut and the decision that was made to toss football in the same graveyard as last year’s spring sports.
At the end of the day, it was about taking all the facts and figures and making a call that proved to soothe a football constituency that gathered multiple times last fall to protest on the Statehouse steps.
“We were in almost daily contact with the Interscholastic League. I knew practice started this week and asked them when they needed a decision. They said by the end of this week,” Coit said. “Looking at what was going and seeing that things were moving in the right direction, I said you’ll definitely have a decision by the end of the week.
“It was really a Rhode Island decision. In terms of timing, the first games aren’t scheduled until a month from now. Having this decision so they start conditioning and working with helmets and pads and build up strength … now you’re worried about whether people are fit or if the fields are ready for them.”
Similar to the sports from the fall and winter seasons, the RIIL is mandating that football players wear masks. The only dramatic modification to football involves coming together for pre-snap huddles – an understandable adjustment at a time when six feet apart continues to be stressed.
Other than that, the game will still be played on a field that’s 100 yards long, with 11 players on each side of the ball, and consisting of four quarters.
“It gives everyone relief knowing they can work towards competitions instead of worrying that it may not happen,” said Mike Lunney, RIIL executive director.
Preliminary schedules that were obtained by the Times/Call showed that each R.I. team was listed to play five regular season games.
Officially, the Fall 2 sports lineup will include football, girls’ volleyball, game-day cheer, and unified volleyball.
Also Thursday, DEM awarded clearance for boys’ lacrosse to be included as part of the spring season.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03