The battle to play high school football this fall in Colorado is far from over.
The back-and-forth between Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado High School Activities Association continued Friday. It started Monday night, when CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green announced a reconsideration of the 2020-21 sports calendar that CHSAA set Aug. 4 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It created four condensed sports seasons and moved football, field hockey, boys soccer and volleyball to the spring.
Tuesday morning, Polis announced during a press conference that he would work with CHSAA to work on revisions to allow football to be played this fall, though he noted it may not be possible for districts to play in which in-person learning has not yet resumed. He put an emphasis on CHSAA making it possible for a fall and a spring football season so that every student-athlete would have the chance to play this year. Tuesday night, the CHSAA Board of Directors took a vote. CHSAA said it was a unanimous decision to keep football in the spring season so that all schools would play during the same season.
But after two more days of outrage, and while states such as Delaware and Michigan decided to reverse course and start a fall football season, CHSAA announced Blanford-Green would meet with the governor’s office on Friday. Polis again discussed the possibility of starting a fall football season during his press conference Friday afternoon.
“I think there is a window. The window is still open for the additional fall sports that have been talked about - football and field hockey for women,” Polis said. “Not every district is ready to do those, but I think many are. There’s still a window to figure that out.
“We are doing everything we can to facilitate this. The important thing is every sport will have a season. There’s still a window to see if some sports like football and field hockey could still be in Season A if there’s enough districts that are ready to do that.”
Protests were held around the state Friday with players, coaches and parents demanding CHSAA and Polis allow fall football like 40 other states have now approved. The two sides are expected to meet during the next couple of days with another vote imminent.
Polis said he talked with Blanford-Green multiple times Thursday but had not spoke with her Friday before his 2:15 p.m. news conference.
Each side has put blame on the other throughout the week. CHSAA issued a statement Friday putting the ball back in the governor’s court.
“On Tuesday afternoon, following multiple conversations with the governor’s office, it was made clear to Blanford-Green that the variances she has sought from the COVID-19 Response Team since June in order to play certain sports would not be given,” CHSAA said in a statement. “This information was conveyed to the Board of Directors prior to their meeting, and vote, on Tuesday evening. It is apparent that the COVID-19 Response Team has now changed their position. The governor made a public statement on Thursday, and then gave the commissioner a verbal reassurance on that same day, that the variances we have been asking for would be expedited. Blanford-Green is meeting with the governor’s office to get details in writing about the variances that his office will allow.”
A key variance that must be adjusted is the cap of no more than 25 people on one field at a time. Teams around the state have operated under those guidelines since the summer with smaller practices held in pods.
To accommodate full player rosters, coaches, referees and game workers, that number would have to greatly increase to allow a football season.
Polis has maintained CHSAA must also offer a spring football season for any schools that are unable to play this fall if they have not yet returned to in-person learning. But the majority of the state is ready to play now.
“We don’t want to be involved with the individual decision of districts about when to sequence their sports. That’s a very localized decision superintendents and athletic directors take very seriously,” Polis said. “What I do think is that school districts should have the option of having football and, if appropriate, women’s field hockey in the A season or the C season for those that are back, ready to go. The majority of districts in our state ... are ready to go in Season A.”
On Thursday, Polis indicated the state may be able to provide some resources to schools that may not have the funding to rush to start a fall football season. He restated that commitment Friday.
“If it’s a matter of resources, and I understand everything is a cost, of course we believe CHSAA activities are an important part of the high school experience for many students,” Polis said. ‘If there’s a way we can find to help in some small way, we would be happy to do that to make sure kids have the opportunity to participate.”
A survey to athletic directors and coaches across Colorado is expected to go out from representatives on the board of directors. Prior to the vote Tuesday evening, no representative had reached out to Durango High School for input.
Durango School District 9-R Athletic Director Ryan Knorr said DHS had not received a survey Friday evening. His only chance to provide input so far was during a district athletic directors meeting Thursday. Durango’s board of directors representative is Steamboat Springs athletic director Luke DeWolf. Steamboat Springs is seven hours away from Durango, more than 350 miles north east.
Knorr and DHS head football coach David Vogt said they would support a fall football season this year. Vogt said he hopes there is an actual plan and serious talks this time around.
“This thing is not over, but we will see,” Knorr said.