Woodstock free safety Clayton Grisolia (center) grimaces as he and teammates engage in a tug of war drill, part of a Marines-inspired set of drills, during football practice last summer in Woodstock.
Woodstock free safety Clayton Grisolia (center) grimaces as he and teammates engage in a tug of war drill, part of a Marines-inspired set of drills, during football practice last summer in Woodstock. — Matthew Apgar file photo – mapgar@shawmedia.com

The return of high school sports in Illinois could be right around the corner, albeit in a limited fashion initially.

With all four regions of the state on track to reach Phase 3 of Gov. JB Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan as soon as Friday, the Illinois High School Association is working with the Illinois Department of Public Health to establish initial guidelines for summer workouts and conditioning, IHSA assistant director Matt Troha said Tuesday.

The initial guidelines are expected to follow a similar blueprint laid out by the National Federation of State High School Associations last week with input from the IDPH.

Troha said the IHSA has not set a specific start date as it continues to seek guidance from the IDPH but said the association knows the next few weeks will be crucial.

"We feel like these next two weeks are pretty critical as the state moves to the next phase," Troha said. "And we sort of see the repercussions from that and if we're going to continue to kind of be on a positive plane in terms of staging and reopen. Or is there a setback, and how do we deal with that, and what is the immediate impact of that on on the various plans that we have ready?"

Positive results in the limited workouts would lay the groundwork to unveil those various plans.

Troha said the IHSA has tried to be transparent with its planning while remaining cautious and managing expectations. He said the IHSA is developing multiple plans but has yet to share them publicly because of the fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For instance, what happens if the school year begins two weeks late? Or if some sports are deemed too risky?

"Gradually, then we will be able to give out what the plan is and how things are going to happen," Troha said. If A happens, then we proceed. And if A doesn't happen, then there's two routes. Then we go to B or to C."

These plans become even more complicated when factoring in football, which is the only IHSA sport in which not every team qualifies for the playoffs.

It's difficult to envision football proceeding with its typical nine-week regular season. Multiple teams have out-of-state opponents scheduled. Many more face lengthy road trips when extended bus travel is likely to still be discouraged. And, of course, there's always the possibility of cancellations because of a player or coach becoming ill.

Changes to the football season, which is a significant revenue driver for member schools' athletic programs and the IHSA, are likely to be among the most contentious decisions that will need to be made.

Many of these decisions will have to wait until the IHSA gets a better sense of how Phase 3 is playing out around Illinois, but Troha said the organization understands it will need to present plans to member schools soon.

"We realize it's almost June and we're essentially two months away from when things really should be starting to get back going," Troha said. "We know that decisions are going to have to be coming here fairly quick.

"We know that we need to get more feedback from our schools on sort of the setup if things are going to have to look different."