It's official. There is going to be a Fall 2020 cross country season in Illinois.
The IHSA weekly update send to school administrators today, July 29th gave the most definitive outline of IHSA sports seasons to date. In this Return to Activities 1.0 document, it was determined that Boys and Girls Cross Country can be competed "in groups of 50 or less where multiple groups are distanced a minimum of 30 ft apart. Competitions should be within an Illinois COVID Region or within a conference." The season begins August 10th and will end October 24, which is two weeks before the usual end date (typically the weekend of regionals.)
In short, today was a topsy-turvy day getting all the information out. The plan was for IHSA to release the plan at 2:00 pm, prior to Gov. Pritzker's usual afternoon press conference. However, Pritzker moved his press conference earlier in the day and gave sports a cursory mention without many details. This left many coaches and administrators confused and scrambling for info. A delay in the IHSA's press release made the 2:00pm to 3:00pm hour a difficult one of waiting, but all is well that ends well since we now have our news.
Since there is a season there are no more what-ifs, only 'when and 'hows'. So now, we begin our discussion of how to hold the season. In my mind, there are three major questions to ask based on the short statement given on boys and girls cross country in the document. They are as follows.
1. How should we design meet schedules to allow for regional and conference play?
2. How should we design meets to keep groups of less than 50, and keep them distanced?
3. What does the state series look like?
These are in order from easiest to hardest to answer. Since there is specific guidance to hold competitions between schools in the same region or conference, expect to see more schools design new meets like that. The traditional schedule of large invites will likely be scrapped since these are large meets that draw schools from multiple regions. The silver lining is that the season is now a blank slate for teams in similar areas to start planning some new competitions. We may begin to see more dual, tri and quad meets as well since the lesser number of runners should assist in the social distancing measures.
Designing meets so that there is never a group of more than 50 is a little trickier. This is already a step forward, since previously it was unclear that the state would allow multiple gatherings of 50 in the same area (there are already some park districts that are disallowing this arrangement). There are two results of this: first, a team camp cannot have more than 50 at it. This is trickier for the larger schools that always carry more than 50 athletes on the team. Schools will have to creatively handle this limitation. Secondly, the races themselves will likely not be able to have more than 50 run at a time. There are some good workarounds to this: 7 teams of 7 runners can run at a time, so if there are more than 7 teams at a meet, then multiple waves or flights can be used. There is also a proposition that multiple starting lines can be used to separate the starting gatherings, but this will be a trickier logistical move and is not as likely. The creativeness of meet organizers and coaches will be needed for this point the most. We may also not have spectators, so live streaming is possible but this is another question that still must be answered.
The last point, and probably the hardest, for now, is whether we can have a state series. Holding a true state championship would violate the rule of only having teams within the same region compete. However, Anderson did not rule out the possibility of a state series in his press conference today (i.e. Michael O'Brien on Twitter). Since sectional and state meets are so large, this will be tough to execute, however. We will continue to look for answers to this question as the season progresses. Since the sport is so regionalized this year, finding a 'true' state champion may be hard.
At this time, we wait to see how the cross country seasons in the Midwestern USA will be affected as well. Indiana, Missouri, and Wisconsin will be having their seasons, and Ohio is currently awaiting a decision from OHSAA on whether cross country is considered high-risk or not. Iowa has switched some of its other sports seasons but cross country is still happening as well.
Now that it is time to discuss what to do rather than have what-ifs, this is the time for coaches and schools to have discussions. With questionnaires coming out soon, coaches can look forward to our emails as an opportunity to voice their ideas and hopes for the season.
As always follow our twitter (@MileSplitIL) and check back on our website for updates on this season.