On Thursday, May 7, John Radtke of
the Daily Herald wrote a column titled 'Some optimism but also reality from
IHSA's [Craig] Anderson for the resumption of high school sports'. You can read
this article posted here: https://www.dailyherald.com/amp-article/20200506/sports/200509492
Radtke describes a conversation he had with Anderson, the IHSA's executive director, following Gov. Pritzker's release of a five-phase re-opening plan for Illinois on Tuesday. While there is still no firm timeline for the phases, we now have some criteria to look for before we begin our sports seasons. Generally, sports practices and some competitions may be permissible under the phase 4 specifications, but full competitions with fans in attendance is a phase 5 event.
One comment that Anderson made caused some waves on social media yesterday. Anderson, verbally processing ideas to Radtke, indicated that he has considered the effects of switching the spring and fall sports seasons for the upcoming school year. This idea does not seem like any more serious of a possibility than other outside-the-box solutions, but it certainly could get us thinking about what some of the benefits and drawbacks to such an arrangement would be.
Many concerns have been suggested, such as the movement of the football season and unintended consequences for multi-sport athletes and potential collegiate athletes in recruiting. Instead, let's brainstorm about some of the effects for just track and cross country. If we have fall track and spring cross country, what would be some effects?
New weather challenges/benefits
The first, the obvious factor would be the flipping of weather circumstances for the sports. Cross country is Illinois is typically mostly a warm and cool fall season with some cold spikes toward the end of the state series. Track in Illinois is 90% bad weather through April with warm (or hot) conditions by the time that the state meets roll around in late May. What might we see with the flip?
For track, there would be some awesome late summer and fall nights at the track. In particular, sprinting would benefit the early season with warm conditions. A school could even decide to have a homecoming track meet since it can be hosted on the school's campus (if the phases allow for such an event). Could you imagine some of the evening shots in Illinois twilight with the leaves changing during a track meet? It would be very cool.
However, the cold November weather is far from ideal for the largest meets of the season (sectionals, state, etc.). Unless the track season is abbreviated, I would expect the state meet to rub up against Thanksgiving break, when 40's weather (or colder) is normal. I would expect this to be harmful to short-distance performances and the experience of the state meet.
For cross country, we might get to see snowy races! National and international cross country championships (and NCAA) often compete in severe inclement weather conditions and this would be unique for athletes. And, since snow in April is typical for Illinois, maybe even conference cross country races in the snow is realistic.
But if the cross country state meet is Memorial Day weekend, that would be the hottest cross country state meet in Illinois history. Given dry conditions, Detweiller's terrain would be hard, packed dirt, but it is hard to envision the fast times we are accustomed to at that meet.
Flipping the indoor and outdoor season
In response to the flipped weather conditions of track season, what if indoor season FOLLOWED outdoor, instead of PRECEDING it? This would be an odd shift, especially since indoor season is often synonymous with early-season fine-tuning and rust busting. However, we should anticipate a number of indoor school and state records falling since a full season of training would culminate in an indoor state meet. By the way, where would this meet be held? An indoor state meet at North Central College could be epic (like Mustang Relays) but would be unable to accommodate the massive crowds that Eastern Illinois usually does.
While on the topic of the track season, this season would be greatly abbreviated compared to the usual spring schedule. To save time, boys and girls postseason meets may be held on the same weekend to allow the girls' season an additional weekend. If the season is split in outdoor/indoor, outdoor may only be about 6-8 weeks long with indoor being 2-4 weeks long.
Traditional dates for large invites are now irrelevant
The season progression of Palatine following Richard Spring following First to the Finish in cross country is now gone for this single season. A glass half empty view would say this means scheduling nightmares. But a departure from the typical calendar could be an opportunity for experimentation. New invites, splitting conflicting invites, and other alternative arrangements can be made. A team who has always wanted to run at a major invite, but has been unable to do so since its own invite is usually conflicting, could experiment this time around. Or, a brand new meet can be born. Calendar experimentation can be seen as a positive.
Strong performances from surprising athletes in cross country
This is much more speculative, but is a fun thought experiment still. With track now in the rearview mirror, short distance athletes or field athletes (who are seniors) who might typically use cross country as a conditioning time period can fully adopt a distance running training program. There are obviously some amazing athletes in track who do not run distance--wouldn't it be fun to see how they would do given a legitimate shot at success on the cross country course? Now they can do so without compromising a future track season.
There are many undesirable effects of switching these seasons that are not discussed here. We will leave that to the public discourse. However, this is the time to brainstorm original solutions to the unique challenge we are presented with. You can look forward to more content helping further the discussion of what our sport should look like when it finally returns.