IBCA Statement on Return to Play 1-19-21
As the leadership of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, we all understand how terrible the COVID 19 pandemic is. Fortunately, we continue to see progress made in Illinois that, we believe, makes now the time to give our basketball student-athletes and coaches an opportunity to have their seasons. The pandemic has delayed season start dates for most sports, thus shortening the “window” for all to have their seasons. The clock is ticking and the calendar is working against us. We are running out of time to provide young people with important social, emotional, and educational opportunities they will never get back.
In the summer and fall of 2020, the Illinois Department of Health and the Illinois High School Association provided student-athletes with the opportunity to utilize “contact days” with their scholastic teams while following designated mitigations and health guidelines. Permitted activities included group training and full contact intrasquad scrimmaging. The IBCA conducted a survey of our member coaches regarding these contact days and how the pandemic affected their experience. Our data concluded that, while following all appropriate health guidelines, scholastic programs were able to provide student-athletes a safe environment to participate in while mitigating the spread of COVID-19 through basketball activities. There have been numerous studies in other states regarding the participation of student-athletes in athletic activities during this pandemic that corroborate the data we found in our study.
When Governor Pritzker stated that basketball was paused in the late fall, it was also announced that basketball was being moved from the medium-risk category to high-risk in Illinois. The National Federation of High Schools has categorized basketball as medium-risk and that guidance is currently being followed by the vast majority of states across the country. It is our hope that basketball in Illinois could be returned to the medium-risk category based on metrics currently available.
At the present time across the country, 35 states are currently playing high school basketball and 11 states have dates set in the near future to begin their seasons. Illinois is one of four states that is not currently playing and does not have a plan on when to begin interscholastic competition. During this indefinite pause, we continue to see many of our student-athletes travel across state lines to compete in basketball when they could be playing in their own state. Not only is it wrong that our young people have to travel to surrounding states to play basketball, but this situation has also created issues regarding equity. Many student-athletes, largely due to financial reasons, cannot take advantage of the ability to travel to other states to compete. We watch professional and collegiate athletes playing basketball in our state safely and regularly. We see all of the states surrounding us participating in basketball as well. We truly believe that we can, with your trust and support, provide our young people with the same athletic opportunities so many other states are currently offering.
All athletics, and in our case, basketball, provide student-athletes with so many incredible life lessons and experiences. Participation in sports is a large part of a student’s holistic education. The relationships that are forged through competition will last the rest of their lives. We continue to see the increases in depression, anxiety, and worse as a result of this pandemic. Our young people have sacrificed so much during this past year and we are currently experiencing a mental health crisis. Opening up sports and allowing student-athletes the opportunity to play basketball and compete against other schools with their teammates would give them a tremendous outlet and a much needed support system to help them through these challenging times.
When basketball was paused last fall, Governor Pritzker stated that medium-risk and high-risk sports would be played in the spring. In the Restore Illinois Plan, Phase 5 is described as having testing and treatment widely available across Illinois. It also says either a vaccine is developed, a treatment option is ready available, or there are no new cases of COVID-19. Testing capabilities have increased greatly. We now have vaccines being distributed and new treatment options continue to become more readily available. This puts us right at the precipice of moving to Phase 5 according to IDPH Guidelines. Considering this, along with time running out on providing student-athletes with the opportunity to play their sports this school year, now is the time to allow interscholastic competition in basketball and every other sport in our state.
We believe that the rewards and benefits for our student-athletes and coaches participating in sports, particularly as we see continued improvement in the management of the pandemic, are worth the steps needed to allow basketball to be safely played at the high school level in Illinois. With time running out to provide our student-athletes with important and meaningful experiences that will shape them for a lifetime, now is the time to allow interscholastic competition in basketball before our young people lose these opportunities forever.
- Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Contact Day Survey Data
- University of Wisconsin Study on the Impact of School Closures and Sport Cancellations on Adolescent Athletes
- National Federation of High Schools Guidelines for Opening Up High School Athletics and Activities listing basketball as a medium-risk sport
- Illinois Department of Health Youth Sports Guidelines
- Illinois High School Association COVID-19 Guidance and Resources Page
- High School Basketball: Where Things Stand with the 2020-21 Season in All 50 States
- National Federation of High Schools Winter Sports Update