New Canaan High School’s athletic director is working with counterparts through the FCIAC to develop a 7-on-7 football league that’s in line with state health recommendations, the superintendent of schools said Monday night.
The non-contact intramural league could include “linemen’s challenge type activities and even linemen 7-on-7 kinds of things,” Dr. Bryan Luizzi told members of the Board of Education during their regular meeting, held in the Wagner Room at NCHS and broadcast on YouTube.
“That is aligned with DPH recommendations, because the 7-on-7 that is non-contact brings it from a ‘high risk’ activity to a ‘moderate risk’ activity,” he said. “Which is the same as some of the other sports we are playing now, with the mitigation strategies—like volleyball with the masks, for instance. So the league would use our district coaches, have teams of approximately 15 players and they would play against each other in the beginning, and even against other schools. And there is a whole schedule being worked out across the FCIAC, with us and some of our rivals and some other schools, to be able to play. May even be able to play on Friday nights, under the lights, and make this as much a positive experience for our kids as is possible.”
The announcement comes days after the the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, or CIAC, announced that full contact football is canceled this fall. It also comes about two weeks after hundreds of local football player and their families gathered at Dunning Stadium to support tackle football this fall.
Though Luizzi did not mention the CIAC or “Let Us Play” effort specifically during the meeting, he did speak out against those who would ignore the recommendations of qualified health professionals and, in doing so, undermine the district’s own carefully planned efforts to keep students, teachers and faculty safe.
He noted that the Connecticut Department of Public Health has categorized full-contact 11-on-11 football as a “high risk” activity.
“And as such, they are advising schools against it,” he said. “The CIAC has asked them since July about this, and gotten the same response, for the most part. So just last week, CIAC published its position that it is not sanctioning full contact, 11-on-11 football for this school year because of that ‘high risk’ categorization by the DPH. Continue looking at that and looking at the feedback form the DPH. The DPH does look at 7-versus-7 non-contact skills-type football as a ‘medium risk’ activity and thereby doesn’t advise against it. So we’ve been working with this — [New Canaan High School Athletic Director] Jay Egan deserves an awful lot of credit for the conversations he’s been having and the work he’s been doing. We are disappointed in the DPH’s categorization of full-contact football as a ‘high risk’ activity. But as I understand it, that’s essentially what is happening nationally and in the states where they are playing football, they’re doing so against the recommendation of their department of public health.”
He added that “it’s been so unfair for our kids” to have the conference officials go so long without making decisions.
“That’s really been unfair, and we’ve got to do better than that, as adults,” he said. “And I have certainly shared feedback with those that needed it on my feelings about how this process has unfolded and how it’s been mishandled, I think, on behalf of our kids … I think it is our responsibility here as a district to move forward with something for our kids. But in our thinking about it all, we have to always keep foremost in our mind that the Department of Public Health is the state-wide authority on public health. And if they are recommending against playing, it’s based on what is best for public health, as determined by people who have spent their lives thinking about, studying, resolving issues of public health.”
Luizzi added that some of the health officials who are making the recommendations on football played college sports themselves and are athletes.
“This is not a bias for or against sports,” Luizzi said. “This is about these activities and the pandemic. So just keeping in mind that piece. Keeping in mind also that our school reopening plans across the board, really hinge upon a couple of things—the continued positive trends in public health, the implementation of our mitigation strategies across the schools and, in truth, the confidence that the parents, teachers, staff and the entire community have in our efforts to keep our schools safe by, in large part, following the DPH guidelines.”
He added, “We are not going to be offering any high-risk, unsanctioned activities here in the district.”
Details of the 7-on-7 league will come out in the next few days, Luizzi said. NCHS typically has about 140 kids who play football, he said, “so it’s really important for us to get this off the ground, because we want to make sure that we have something for them to do at the end of each day.”
Board of Ed members asked when the 7-on-7 season is envisioned to run (it would mirror the regular football season, so it could come together quickly and run through mid-November), whether other districts are playing 11-on-11 football (not that the New Canaan Public Schools superintendent is aware of), what other sports as the DPH deemed “high risk” (just football in the fall, though there’s been chatter about winter sports including basketball, ice hockey and wrestling), and whether the district would look at states that did have full-contact football against their own health department guidelines to see how things went (sure and Connecticut’s DPH can look at that, too).
The 7-on-7 league is designed to provide students “something meaningful to do,” Luizzi said.
“It’s still a skill-building activity, it keeps our coaches working with our kids. It keeps them learning and growing,” he said. “The kids will progress in their football skills. We have opportunities for our varsity coaches, all of our coaches, to work with these teams in the 7-on-7 type league, where they will continue to build their skills, continue to learn the game of football. And it continues to give something meaningful, memorable for our kids to do. It’s not the same. But from the beginning, we have said our goal is to create a replica of what was lost, but working within the bounds, it’s something new and meaningful and memorable for our kids. It may give them an experience that’s totally their own and we think that this will do that.”
The development of the 7-on-7 league followed careful consideration of different options for football players this fall, he said.
“But from the start, this has not ever been a ‘football question,’ ” Luizzi said. “We love football. I talk about the Clemson Tigers to anyone who will listen. We play football, it’s a part of our lives. We do. But it’s never been a football question. It’s always been a question of the guidance from the Department of Public Health and whether or not we would follow that guidance. And as we look at it, look at all of what we are doing, look at the enormity of the responsibilities placed on us, we are going to continue to follow the guidance of the Department of Public Health.”