Jacobs' Trever Pankau (back) hits Michael Almeda as the Golden Eagles warm up for their Week 2 game against Huntley on Sept. 6 at Jacobs High School in Algonquin.
Jacobs' Trever Pankau (back) hits Michael Almeda as the Golden Eagles warm up for their Week 2 game against Huntley on Sept. 6 at Jacobs High School in Algonquin. — Matthew Apgar - mapgar@shawmedia.com

The IHSA will delay some fall sports until next spring, it announced Wednesday in a memo to schools.

Football, girls volleyball and boys soccer will compete in spring 2021. Golf, cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming and diving will compete this fall in groups of 50 or fewer people. Those sports must compete within their conference or within their Illinois COVID-19 region.

Teams in all sports will play shortened regular seasons. State tournaments will be determined on a sport-by-sport basis.

Remaining fall sports will compete from Aug. 10 to Oct. 24 and winter sports from Nov. 16 to Feb. 13. Some traditional spring sports will be moved to a new summer period. Football, boys soccer, girls volleyball, girls badminton, boys gymnastics and water polo will compete in the spring from Feb. 15 until May 1. Baseball, softball, track and field, girls soccer, boys volleyball, lacrosse and boys tennis will compete in the summer from May 3 to June 26.

“This plan, like nearly every aspect of our current lives, remains fluid,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said. “Changes may come, and if they do, we will be agile while putting safety and students first. It was important that we provide a framework today for our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and officials to begin preparing for the 2020-21 school year.”

The decision was made official after Wednesday’s IHSA executive board meeting. The announcement came only hours after Gov. JB Pritzker announced new restrictions on youth and adult sports. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health put together a tiered plan, with lower-risk sports allowed to compete more quickly than contact sports, such as football. The IDPH guidelines also pertain to travel leagues, rec leagues and park district sports.

Anderson said Wednesday in a conference call with members of the media that the IHSA had hoped to have its schedule announcement out before the governor spoke. Anderson said the IHSA has not received any guidance from the IDPH about the metrics that will determine when a sport can move into the next tier under the IDPH guidelines.

Anderson indicated that communication between the IDPH and the IHSA has been less than thorough. He said he hopes to see more collaboration between the IHSA's sports medicine committee and the IDPH.

“Our direct connection to IDPH comes through my conversations with the deputy governor,” Anderson said. “We haven’t had any direct conversations with IDPH, so we’re hoping, and the deputy governor has indicated that he’s trying to make that happen for us.”

As far as the IHSA's schedule, everything remains flexible. As it stands, the schedule permits a maximum of nine games for football. That likely would be a six- or seven-game regular season with a short, regional postseason.

"It’s going to be difficult, to be honest, to crown a champion in football," Anderson said.

Unless the threat of the virus abates in the next few months, it also will be difficult to hold indoor sports with any spectators. Additionally, a high-risk sport such as wrestling could be moved to the spring or summer session if it's not feasible by November.

The IHSA hasn't ruled out a one-year exception to its rule against competing in high school sports and club sports at the same time. Sports such as girls volleyball and boys soccer will overlap club and high school seasons under the current plan.

Anderson said those discussions were tabled until a future board meeting, possibly as soon as next month.

"I do think, as I indicated in the spring, when we’re impacting and overlapping those … there is some reasonableness for our board to consider some exceptions to permit school and nonschool activities in the same sport to possibly coincide when ordinarily our bylaws wouldn’t [allow it]," Anderson said.

The IHSA's goal is to host state tournaments in every sport, but IDPH restrictions could limit that. If Illinois' COVID-19 regions are allowed to compete against each other in the future, the IHSA could extend the end date for some sports to complete a state tournament, Anderson said. A more likely option might be regional postseason tournaments with no true state champions.

Illinois joins a long list of states that have delayed fall sports at high schools. Five other states – California, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia and Washington – and Washington D.C. will not play football in the fall, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. California won’t play until December or January.

Neighboring Wisconsin last week announced it would delay some sports more than others, with football starting Sept. 7. Other neighbors, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri, are forging ahead as originally planned.

Earlier this month, the IHSA was named a defendant in a lawsuit that asserted the IHSA didn’t have the authority to enforce its summer workout restrictions. The next day, the IHSA announced it would defer its decision-making process to state health officials at the IDPH and state education officials at the Illinois State Board of Education.