’Let’s go’: 95% of coaches in IBCA survey want IHSA basketball kept on track
PEORIA — The full-court press is on to get Illinois high school basketball under way in November.
A survey of 797 high school boys and girls basketball coaches in the state by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association resulted in 95 percent backing the start of the 2020-21 season in November, as planned by the Illinois High School Association.
But will Illinois health officials allow it? As of this moment, the state has placed basketball in a Level 2 category, which mandates masks for practices and prohibits playing any games. The state would have to re-define basketball as a Level 3 sport to drop the mask mandate and allow games to be played by the Nov. 30 IHSA start date.
The IBCA released results of its survey on Monday — and shared it with the IHSA — as the first step in pushing state health officials.
"I will do whatever it takes to have a season," said Roanoke-Benson boys coach Abe Zeller, also one of the IBCA's overseers for IBCA District 12, which is the Peoria area. "I'd be disappointed if our kids had to wear a mask. But we'll continue to follow whatever rules are in place.
"We had no COVID issues with our athletes at R-B that I'm aware of. And I don't want to force anyone to be subjected to a COVID risk.
"I would feel perfectly comfortable coaching without wearing a mask. If I had a kid playing, I'd be perfectly comfortable with him not wearing a mask. But I also would have no problems coaching a kid who wants to play with a mask on. That's a decision players and parents have the right to make."
IHSA executive director Craig Anderson says he has the IBCA survey data. His board, meanwhile, delivered its basketball guidelines (COVID mitigation protocols) to the state governor's office on Friday. From there, it will move to the state health department. Anderson hopes to have a decision from the state by Nov. 1.
"I'm not at all surprised by the COVID data findings in the survey," Anderson said Monday evening. "It's what I anticipated. We appreciate the IBCA collecting this. Any bit of info helps us. I've pointed out to the governor's office the results throughout other states, national results that show medium- and high-level risk sports can be operated under our guidelines, and with the state health protocols, and be safe. We can mitigate COVID-19 and also play."
Here's the IBCA coaches survey results:
Do you want the 2020-21 season to start on time? Yes: 95 percent. No: 5 percent. Note: Practices commence on Nov. 16, games start Nov. 30 under IHSA plan.
If the season were to start on time, would your school elect to participate? Yes: 81 percent. Unsure: 18 percent. No: less than 1 percent.
Did you use contact days? 51 percent of coaches used summer contact days permitted by IHSA in July and August, while 49 percent did not.
Summer contact days: 93 percent of coaches reported no known COVID-19 cases among members of their program. The 7 percent of programs that reported cases said it was limited to one or two members. There was one outbreak (3-5 members).
Fall contact days: 91 percent of coaches reported no known COVID cases among members of their program. The 9 percent of programs that reported cases said it was limited to one or two members. There were two programs with outbreaks. To clarify, the data reflects the percentage of school programs that have known cases, not the number of individual players with cases. A total of 69 percent of coaches said they are currently using their fall contact days. Of the rest, 72 percent said they plan to use them by Oct. 31.
"I'm one of the 95 percent," Notre Dame boys basketball coach Tom Lacher said. "Let's go. Our guys are ready to play. We've had no outbreaks in the summer or fall. I'm hoping we're on the right track to move up the (state health category) ladder.
"I don't know how you play with masks on, or if doing so is even healthy for young athletes. We should absolutely be moved up to Level 3. I have college coaches coming in to see our kids all the time, watching them with masks on, and telling us their kids are playing without masks.
"That's got to be where we get to."
Richwoods boys basketball coach Will Smith sees difficult issues ahead for the sport if masks are required.
"I don't know if wearing a mask while playing will be more adverse for the kids," he said. "And what happens if a kid is playing and pulls his mask down? Is there a penalty for that? How does it get regulated? If we're going to play, play the game in as normal conditions as possible.
"My biggest question is, what does the end of the season look like? With no state finals scheduled, how does it end?"
The survey results provide solid data and an entry point to make a case to the state. But will the state listen?
“The results seem extremely positive,” Morton High School girls head coach Bob Becker said. “Many, many people are striving to make this season happen for our kids and schools. No doubt health and safety is everyone’s priority.
“I’m encouraged by the data collected. I hope these results aren’t ignored by those in power. Are these efforts worthy of moving us into phase 3? In my opinion it’s time to play. Our kids want to play. The rewards seem to far outweigh the risks.”
The IBCA will ship its survey data to the governor's office to back up the IHSA's appeal to the state for a November season startup.
"Based on the data collected from our survey, among many other reasons, we believe that the mitigation and health guidelines in place have proven to be successful in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while student-athletes participate in basketball activities," the IBCA said in its survey conclusions Monday. "It is because of this we are advocating for basketball to move to level 3 in the IDPH Youth Sports Guidelines in time for the start of the 2020-21 winter season."