STONINGTON — Full-contact fall football in Connecticut bit the dust Wednesday morning after a vote by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's Board of Control.
The board reaffirmed its Sept. 3 decision to cancel the sport due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rhode Island on Sept. 4 moved football to next year between the winter and spring seasons.
Stonington High football coach A.J. Massengale said he would prefer to play in the fall but is glad to have a decision that's final.
"Unfortunately, this has gone back and forth and been such a debacle that I'm at the point now I want us to have a plan going forward and not have everything up in the air," Massengale said.
Last week, the Connecticut Department of Public Health spoke against a CIAC plan for football that included a number of modifications. On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont said football should be moved to the spring.
"CIAC made every effort to weigh all factors in this decision, including the passionate voices of students, parents, and school personnel, and ultimately made the determination to align its decision with the recommendations of the Governor’s office and DPH to not hold high-risk sports at this time,” CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said in a statement posted on the organization's website Wednesday. “In conversation with other state associations across the country, it was clear that a key factor in playing interscholastic football was alignment with the opinion of their state’s governor and state health agency.”
The CIAC had previously said any fall sport not played in the fall would not be played. But that has changed.
"The board did, however, agree it would consider allowing competition at a later time for a sport that cannot hold its regularly scheduled season, such as football, provided it does not negatively impact spring sports," the statement read.
Former Stonington coach Jim Buonocore, an assistant principal and athletic director at Ledyard High, and SCC commissioner Al Carbone have developed a plan for a five-week season that would start March 16. The plan was first reported by GameTime CT.
For now, the ECC is also considering other options for its football teams that include competition with other league schools.
"We have a plan for the ECC that includes linemen challenges for competition within their skill set. That would be followed by a 7 vs. 7 game that would be similar to passing leagues in the summer," said Stonington AD and ECC president Bryan Morrone, who wasn't surprised by the CIAC's decision.
Morrone has also proposed 7 vs. 7 game between linemen from other schools as an alternative to the linemen challenges. An example of an event in the linemen challenges would be the tire flip.
"There is some interest among the other ADs in 7 vs. 7 for linemen," Morrone said. "We are going to do what is in the best interest of the athletes. If some schools want the linemen to play a 7 vs. 7 game, we will. If some schools don't want that, we will have the challenges."
Massengale said the linemen on his team would prefer to play 7 vs. 7.
"They want to compete and have fun playing football," he said. "We want to do everything we can to make this a positive experience."
Morrone said the ECC plan would still need approval from the CIAC.
"They've seen our plan; they like our plan," Morrone said. "It follows all the DPH guidelines. We believe it will get the go-ahead from the state. I know they have shown it to other schools. We still have a lot of details that need to be worked out. But the concepts are all in place. The eastern Connecticut officials organization would send us three officials for each game."
The CIAC said it would recommend low- and moderate-risk activities for football athletes later this week.
Morrone said the ECC already has a schedule in place. Stonington would host Ledyard on Sept. 25, if the plan is approved by the CIAC.
The CIAC said schools, with approval from their local public health agency, could play full-contact football as a club sport without following the CIAC mitigating plans.
Morrone said that is not an option for Stonington.
Massengale hopes the spring season becomes a reality, but is concerned COVID-19 numbers in Connecticut, which are among the best in the country, may not be any better come February.
"Hopefully, we can come to an agreement and allow them to play football in the spring even if the metrics are the same. But that is above my pay grade," Massengale said. "If things remain the same, let's go ahead and do this."