IHSA plans to start basketball season as scheduled despite state guidelines against competitive play

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CHICAGO — The governing body for high school sports in Illinois said it will schedule the winter basketball season as planned Wednesday, a day after Governor JB Pritzker and state health officials released COVID-19 guidelines restricting any competitive play in the sport.

Under the plan for winter sports amid the coronavirus pandemic released by the Illinois High School Association’s Board of Directors Wednesday afternoon, wrestling will be moved to the summer while winter seasons will continue as planned for boys swimming and diving, cheerleading, dance, bowling, and girls gymnastics.

While those plans are consistent with guidelines released by Governor JB Pritzker and state health officials Tuesday, the IHSA board announced it’s also going to schedule the winter basketball season as planned, contradicting those guidelines.

In a statement, the board said it made the decision because they did not receive any “causal evidence that rising COVID-19 cases make basketball more dangerous to play.”

“On the contrary, the IHSA has been looking to bordering states who have sponsored both medium risk and high risk sports in the fall that have noted a low incident rate of COVID-19 spread,” the statement said.

The IHSA said it developed its plan for sports this winter following recommendations made by its own advisory committee. Under its schedule, boys and girls basketball practices are set to begin November 16 with games following two weeks later.

Players, coaches and officials will be required to wear masks at all times while social distancing on benches must also be observed, according to the IHSA. Competitive play will also be limited to games within the same conference and state health region, which is consistent with state guidelines for sports considered to be low risk.

The state’s guidelines label sports as low, medium or high risk depending on what officials deem as their risk for COVID-19 spread, and outline which activities are acceptable within each risk group.

Basketball is grouped together with hockey and wrestling as a “high risk” sport under the latest guidance, which says those sports should only hold no-contact practices and not allow competitive play.

Pritzker said the state arrived at its guidelines based on information from national organizations, doctors who treat children and sports medicine experts.

“If there’s a difference of opinion, I prefer to err on the side of health and safety and I think that’s where we have intended for all of our guidance to fall,” Pritzker said.

WATCH ABOVE: Illinois Governor JB Pritzker responds to the IHSA’s decision to schedule the 2020-21 basketball season as planned Wednesday

Basketball was previously classified as a “medium risk” sport by state health officials, but was reclassified as “high risk” in the latest guidelines issued Tuesday. Sports considered medium risk are also barred from competitive play, with only intra-team scrimmages allowed.

The board said the decision of whether to play or not would ultimately lie with individual school districts. If they do decide to contradict state guidelines, Pritzker said local districts could potentially open themselves up to legal liabilities if an outbreak of COVID-19 does occur.

“IHSA may have their views, but school districts know what the rules are,” Pritzker said. “I think it’s unfortunate, but they’d probably be taking on legal liability if they went ahead and moved beyond what the state has set as the mitigation standard.”

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