Democratic and Republican Legislators Question State Guidance Limiting High School Football

After the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced on Friday that full-contact high school football will not resume this fall, Democratic and Republican state representatives sent letters to Gov. Ned Lamont and the state commissioner of public health urging them to reconsider the decision.

“We write to urge you to convene a meeting with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the Department of Public Health, and your office to continue the conversation, work collaboratively and see if we can find a way for our young people to play football this fall,” read a letter sent by 24 Democratic representatives.

In contrast to field hockey, soccer, cross country and every other fall sport — which are expected to gradually expand from small practices to full competition between now and Oct. 1 — football will be limited to designated low and moderate risk activities based on guidance from the state Department of Public Health. 

“As we have stated previously and consistently, there are characteristics that make certain sports unique with regard to their potential for the spread of COVID-19, and thereby present a higher risk for initiating or furthering community spread of any outbreaks even when data metrics support in-person learning,” explained Acting Commissioner of Public Health Deidre Gifford to Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, on Sept. 3. “With regard to CIAC’s consideration of additional mitigation strategies for indoor girls’ volleyball and football that may lower their risks for person-to-person respiratory droplet spread, DPH has suggested that CIAC consider modifications to higher risk activities.” 

For volleyball, the modified guidance is for players to wear masks. For football, the guidance eliminates full-contact activities and 11 vs. 11 play. Instead, football teams will be allowed to play 7 vs. 7, flag football, host lineman challenges and weightlifting competitions.

“Right now, the data does support moving to full contact football,” said Lungarini, “but we do understand that our member schools, and their decision making, need to have an aligned position between us and the state.”

The state’s decision comes despite the fact that privately-sponsored sports, including club softball and hockey, have allowed full-contact competition during the summer without evidence of significant outbreaks of COVID-19. These competitions have included out-of-state players and travel. 

Republican legislators asked the Department of Public Health to explain its decision.

“We are writing to more fully understand the Department of Public Health’s opposition to full-contact football this fall and obtain more information on your decision-making process and metrics that you believe need to be achieved in order to allow football to be played,” the letter stated. “[T]here must be specific metrics and rationale that went into the guidance you communicated that led to the recommendation to cancel contact football for the upcoming season.”

In the letter, Republican legislators asked how much lower the infection rate needs to be, given the current rate of .8%.

“So what rate between 0% and 0.8% do we as a state need to reach for you to consider Connecticut safe enough for football?”

According to a letter from the Department of Public Health’s to Lungarini last Thursday, the metrics and thresholds are the same ones used for school reopening: fewer than 10 new cases per week per 100,000 people in a county.

However, the department also qualified that advice given “the direction of trends in those metrics.” 

“Unfortunately we are already seeing some of the metrics on our state trending upward,” the department explained. “DPH follows local and national trends and meets regularly with other states and federal partners as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All of these activities form the basis of our public health recommendations.” 

State Rep. Cristin McCarthy-Vahey, D-Fairfield, pressed the Department of Public Health to better explain their decision-making.

“The families, coaches and players I heard from here in Fairfield want a better understanding of the reasons why DPH made the decision they did and what, if anything, they could do to help address those concerns and give the students an opportunity to play football,” said McCarthy-Vahey. “The letter was a request to have a discussion and hopefully find a potential solution. Safety is still the top priority when addressing any community progress during the pandemic and it is vital to approaching these concerns practically.”

The Office of the Governor was unavailable to comment for this story.