What appeared to be a sudden twist in the state’s high school sports scene turned out to be nothing but a short-lived illusion.
After CHSAA commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green and Gov. Jared Polis said there was interest in discussing the possibility of a return to some of the other fall sports — namely, football — CHSAA’s board of directors unanimously voted to stay put Tuesday night.
“We understand that our school communities would like to return to all levels of normalcy,” Troy Baker, the President of CHSAA’s Board of Directors, was quoted in CHSAA’s release Wednesday. “We listened to all parties and the voices of our membership resonated strongly to support the plan as approved in August. The plan aligns with the CHSAA mission. All students have an opportunity to play a season during the 2020-21 school year.”
The latest development put to rest a two-day saga spurred on by what many believed to be a pathway for football to return this fall.
Already had health and state protocols pushed back most high school sports in Colorado until 2021 due to the coronavirus, but rumors of change swirled as Blanford-Green said Monday that there was interest in resuming some of the other fall sports not yet going — “especially football” her statement read.
That notion then gained traction Tuesday afternoon when Gov. Polis said he was ready to work with the association to make football in the fall a reality.
“We would be thrilled to work with (CHSAA) to make that happen, for the districts that are ready to go,” Polis said. “I think there’s some opportunity to have a fall season for those who are ready.”
But that didn’t hold up long.
Tuesday night, 16 CHSAA board members from around the state chose not to stray from the COVID-19 restructured athletics calendar. Meaning, ongoing are the four fall sports already in progress — including boys tennis, softball, boys golf and cross country. While remaining traditional fall sports — football, boys soccer and volleyball — as well as all other sanctioned sports, still aren’t expected until the new year.
“You can’t ever put the cart before the horse,” Boulder football coach Ryan Bishop said. “We had a workout yesterday and I told the guys there’s a possibility that we’re going to play and there’s a possibility that we’re not. We’re just going to keep preparing the way we’re preparing. If they tell us to play, we’ll be ready to play. If they allow us to keep practicing, we’re going to practice.”
But for some players, this news reaffirms a swift end to their high school football careers.
Heralded prospect Brayden Wood, a senior defensive end at Fairview who is committed to Kansas State, said by phone Wednesday that the state’s decision to not play football in the fall means he’ll miss his last season.
“To be honest, it’s kind of devastating,” Wood said. “My big thing was graduating early and enrolling early at K-State. So, when I first heard the news of no senior season, I was really devastated. Then seeing all these states (bring back football in the fall) it kind of gave me — and I know a couple other guys graduating early — it gave us all hope. But, you know, it’s really frustrating.”
And he knows it’s even worse for the seniors who’d hoped this fall could lead to college recruitment.
“This a big year for a lot of kids, especially a lot of the seniors on my team who don’t yet have scholarships,” Wood said. “This is the year they’re finally starting. This is their team. They waited in line for this year to have a huge impact. It’s frustrating and sad at the same time.”
According to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, the reintroduced plan for football in the fall would’ve had teams participate in nine official practices before undergoing a seven-game regular season.
School districts deemed ready to play football would’ve had their first games around Oct. 1. And those that weren’t would have been allowed to keep football in the spring.
Wednesday, Polis appeared to put the onus of the decision to stand pat on CHSAA.
“I have said from the beginning that it will take all of us — people at home, local communities, governments, businesses, and organizations working together to crush the spread of this virus,” Polis said in a statement. “Our administration was looking forward to allowing more student-athletes to begin their season this fall, but if the CHSAA board unanimously agrees that they should delay their season until the spring in an effort to ensure that they are better prepared to protect the safety of student-athletes then our administration fully respects that decision.
The important thing is that every CHSAA sanctioned athletic team sport will occur this school year, giving kids the opportunity to learn important skills by participating in team sports.”
A reversal in decision would’ve come on the heels of Michigan’s choice to bring back all fall sports last week. Colorado’s remaining fall sports will instead start Feb. 22.
Even before CHSAA nearly reneged on its decision, players from around the state had already publicly expressed interest in moving to one of the states that allowed fall football. Going forward, many programs from across the area have stated that they’re allowed some time to work out with their teams as long as it follows state and district guidelines. Coaches have also said that there are some players who are joining one of the 7-on-7 fall club leagues being formed around the state.
“It’s been tough,” Erie football coach Chad Cooper said. “We’ll be OK. I just really feel for our kids in the program, specifically our seniors. I feel like what’s going on is extremely unfair to them. And how it’s being done at times, with the announcement that was made, I thought it was careless. To make an announcement Monday without having everything completed and all the boxes checked, I feel like the process this week has been extremely careless … We’ll be OK. We’ll recover. There will be football one day. But I really feel for the kids.”
Per the National Federation of High School Sports Associations, Colorado is one of 18 states that have moved football from the fall.