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Legality of IHSA Move to Start Basketball Questioned

Paul Steinbach

A day after Illinois governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health put high school basketball on hold indefinitely, the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors voted to proceed with the season anyway.

Whether Wednesday's vote is legal or not has yet to be determined, as reported by Journal Courier of Jacksonville.

“We’ve told school districts what the rules are, and I think they all know,” the governor said during the state's daily COVID-19 briefing. “So, IHSA may have their views of it, but school districts know what the rules are, and I think it’s unfortunate, but they would be probably taking on legal liability if they went ahead and moved beyond what the state has set as the mitigation standard.”

IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said he didn’t seek a legal opinion before Wednesday’s board meeting. “I didn’t resource any of our legal counsel related to this because honestly, when we went into the meeting, I was really unsure of where our board was going to go with their decision-making,” he said.

Local officials greeted the news with skepticism.

“Well, I think we’re just going to wait and see what the governor swings back with,” Routt Catholic High School athletic director and football coach Barry Creviston told the Journal Courier. “I’m sure this isn’t the end.

“For as low as we were yesterday, we’re high today — but not too high, without caution,” he said.

State officials were clear in issuing their winter sports standards on Tuesday, elevating basketball from a medium-risk sport to a high-risk sport.

Related: Illinois Moves HS Basketball Into High Risk Category

“The science, as we know it right now, applies in all situations,” Illinois Department of Public Health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “The more people you are in contact with, the longer you are together, and the closer you are together, the greater your risk of getting COVID-19. Being face to face with another person for a basketball or football game puts players at higher risk of getting and spreading the virus. Right now, cases across Illinois and the country are increasing.”

Local schools can decide if they want to allow their basketball teams to participate following guidelines developed by the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. As part of the IHSA’s mitigation plan, masks will be worn by all players, coaches and officials during play.

Boys’ and girls’ basketball teams are scheduled to begin practices on November 16, with contests to begin November 30.

The board said it was the best choice.

“Mounting challenges, from increased mental health issues among our students to a shrinking calendar that limits our ability to move sport seasons this school year, were instrumental in this decision to move forward with basketball as scheduled,” board members said in a statement. “We see our students regularly leaving the state to play sports, or covertly continuing to play locally. Students can be better protected in the high school setting, and the Board remains steadfast that playing under IHSA rules and (Sports Medicine Advisory Committee) mitigation is the safest way to conduct athletics at this juncture.

“Contact days for our teams this fall have been an incredible boon to our students’ well-being,” the statement continued. “We fear for the mental health of students who attempt to traverse a long winter with no athletic outlet available. So much about dealing with this virus has been learned in the past eight months, and this decision will grant the membership the opportunity to apply that knowledge during their basketball season.”

If the action is ultimately deemed illegal, Anderson said the IHSA will make changes accordingly.

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