Why losing high school teams might be able to advance in IHSA basketball playoffs
The IHSA won't alter its postseason schedule for COVID-affected teams
The Illinois high school basketball season has seen its share of shuffled schedules caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That won't be the case in the 2021-22 winter postseason, the Illinois High School Association said this week, deciding it will not reschedule playoffs contests. If a team is not ready to play in the playoffs, the tournament moves on, says the IHSA.
The IHSA is so determined to keep schools playing that some losing teams might even get a do-over. If a winning team has a COVID shutdown and decides it can't play its next game, the team it just defeated will advance instead.
For instance, say a basketball team loses its supersectional on a Monday. If the team that won is sidelined by COVID and unable to play at the state finals that weekend, the losing supersectional team gets that berth.
“It could happen at any round,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said. “And if a team that lost went on to win state, it would definitely be history making. That would be strange and hard to explain in the history books, but it’s part of what COVID has created.”
The schools are the ones that decide how much they are affected, said Anderson. Even if a team was down to one varsity player, that team could decide to play in the state finals with a roster full of freshmen and sophomores. Notification of a team’s withdrawal must be made to the IHSA no later than six hours before the a game's scheduled start.
“The emphasis for us is to fill the brackets and have contests for students to compete in every round of the state series as possible," Anderson said. “But we would never tell a school they could not compete. They would be the one reporting to us.”
How did the IHSA decide its COVID plan?
The IHSA discussed what to do in case of COVID interruptions at a board meeting Jan. 12. The board basically decided there will be no changes to the postseason schedules, even if a team cannot compete.
The IHSA has long had such plans in place for individual sports (wrestling has state qualifier alternates in case another wrestler doesn’t make weight) but this is the first time the IHSA has a contingency in place for alternate teams.
Wrestling regionals begin Feb. 5. Girls basketball regionals are Feb. 12. Boys basketball regionals begin Feb. 19. The winter postseason culminates with the boys championship games March 12 in Champaign.
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Anderson is confident the IHSA will crown its winter champions.
“There is no concern of being shut down,” he said. “If the public health department or the governor were going to come to us and say we have to shut down our tournaments, we would have seen it a couple of weeks ago as things were starting to spike.”
Could anything delay a playoff game?
While the games will go on, inclement weather still could prove an obstacle. COVID, however, will not.
“Weather could cause us to delay, but we weren’t going to get into negotiating with schools to see when they could have the players they wanted to play if they were given an additional day or two," Anderson said. "The timelines of our tournaments don’t allow for that. We want to keep to our schedule so teams can prepare for their next opponent.”
Rescheduling regular-season games is no longer even happening in the Rockford-based NIC-10. Harlem pulled every girls basketball starter off the bus except one last Friday, and the team went into a last-minute COVID quarantine. The Huskies brought up JV players for a game they wound up losing 39-31 at Belvidere.
That was the second COVID quarantine of the season for Harlem; the school switched to remote learning this week.
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“It happened so fast and last-minute,” Harlem coach Beth Meyer said. “The whole COVID situation has taken its toll on the kids. They were obviously bummed. But it was the responsible thing to do. The spread is so intense right now in our community that it’s bound to hit our sports teams as well.
“I, myself, had COVID a couple of weeks ago. Anybody can get hit with it at any time. I think it will shake up the postseason.”
Will fans be allowed in the IHSA postseason?
Shake it up, maybe. But not stop it. Or, for the most part, keep away fans.
Anderson said the IHSA plans no attendance restrictions, but will adhere to any local measures in place where their tournaments are being held. For instance, no fans will be allowed at the boys bowling state finals Friday in O’Fallon and only two fans per bowler on the final day Saturday.
Also, Anderson does not expect one sport to be more at-risk than another. That includes wrestling, the most contact of all high school contact sports.
“If there is a COVID spread, the spread is not likely to be from competition,” Anderson said. “Schools get affected because of students and their activities outside of school, not competition.”