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Pritzker announces high school basketball delayed until spring; IHSA still plans to move forward

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker appears at a news conference Sept. 21 in Springfield.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker appears at a news conference Sept. 21 in Springfield.

High school basketball season appears to be back on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, or at least Gov. JB Pritzker wants it that way.

Pritzker announced Thursday that high-risk winter sports, including basketball, would be moved to the spring.

The IHSA, however, responded that it is proceeding as planned and then sent out its winter sports mitigation guidelines late Thursday afternoon.

Pritzker's statement is the latest in a whirlwind 48 hours surrounding high school basketball in Illinois. On Tuesday, Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Health said that they were moving basketball to the "higher risk" category and putting the high school season "on hold," with no start date given.

On Wednesday, the IHSA Board of Directors voted to move forward with the basketball season as planned, defying the decision made by Pritzker and the IDPH. That announcement, however, left the ultimate decision up to individual school districts whether or not to play.

Pritzker provided more clarity Thursday as to what a basketball season "on hold" means. The season scheduled to start with practices Nov. 16 and games Nov. 30 has been pushed back to spring, the governor said.

"It's not that we're trying to shut down their sport or tell them to go home and don't do anything. There are medium-level risk and low-level risk [sports] and those sports will in fact be played in the fall and winter, but some of these sports, we're not shutting them down, we've asked that they be moved to the spring," Pritzker said at his Thursday news conference.

"What we're trying to do is get to the point where positivity rates are much lower, where the number of cases in our state is much lower and where I hope and pray we will have much better treatments and vaccines available. It's the high-risk sports where we have asked that there may be limitations just for the time being."

The IHSA responded to a request for comment with this statement:

"The IHSA has not received additional outreach from the governor’s office or IDPH since Tuesday, and as a result, are not comfortable commenting," an IHSA spokesman said in the statement. "Please refer to the IHSA press release from yesterday for the IHSA’s current winter schedule."

According to a source, there is no agreement between the IHSA and Pritzker, and the IHSA is moving forward with basketball as scheduled. The IHSA later Thursday afternoon posted winter sports mitigation considerations for six sports – basketball included.

The IHSA in July announced that it would defer to the IDPH, the Illinois State Board of Education and the governor's office on all of its return-to-play guidelines going forward. This came after the high school sports governing body was named a defendant in a lawsuit that aimed to roll back the IHSA's return to play guidelines.

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson in a news conference Wednesday said he did not know that Pritzker was going to make a winter sports announcement Tuesday. The IHSA first heard of Pritzker's pending announcement 15 minutes before it happened.

The IHSA held a special board meeting Wednesday morning to act on winter sports and voted to move forward with basketball in the winter season despite the IDPH risk change announced Tuesday.

"The fact that the IHSA has a different opinion, I've known that for some time about different areas of sports," Pritzker said Thursday. "We have talked to them on a frequent basis, got their opinions on each one of these things and most importantly, I think it's going to be incumbent upon the schools to make decisions for themselves. That's what we've left schools to do, to make decisions about how to keep the children, the people that work in schools, safe."

Pritzker, noting that there are 1.8 million kids in Illinois not in school every day because of the pandemic, said that "sports is a secondary."

"We want to make sure that kids are learning first of all, and we want to lower the risk," Pritzker said. "Schools will potentially be subject to legal liability if they're playing a sport that we have issued guidance about."

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