Changes to the upcoming high school sports season continued this week as the CIF State office announced that the Regional and State Championships for the fall season had been canceled. The announcement means that there will be no state champions crowned in any fall sports, including football. The changes do not apply to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, though it remains undetermined how postseason competition may materialize in the months ahead.
CIF-SS Commissioner Rob Wigod released a statement in conjunction with the CIF State announcement, offering an update on the current outlook for high school sports at the section level. Wigod reiterated in the statement that the CIF-SS sports calendar remains unchanged, and that ultimately the decision to resume athletic competition does not fall to the CIF.
“Our member schools and school districts have the responsibility of bringing their students back to campus for academics and athletics,” Wigod explained in a follow-up interview. “We’ve done everything that we can to provide that structure and framework, but factors out of our control, and even our schools’ control, is what we’re getting from state and local health authorities.”
Locally, the Long Beach Unified School District has confirmed that schools are permitted to continue with conditioning workouts. Teams have been allowed to hold modified outdoor practices on campus, and those have not been impacted by the recent changes to city and county health orders.
Wigod said that the CIF-SS submitted its plan for the safe return of high school sports to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) two months ago, but they have yet to receive approval or guidance. According to Wigod, he and CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti have maintained a consistent dialogue with the CDPH, and were anticipating feedback on their plan on November 16. That feedback never arrived, however, as on that same day Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the entire state of California had entered the purple tier of COVID-19 spread and the state would be imposing stricter health guidelines. Based on the rising number of cases and hospitalizations across the state, Wigod fears that any guidance from the CDPH right now would be much more restrictive than the original proposal.
“Hopefully, if that is coming soon, there’s time for things to get a little better,” Wigod admitted. “Because if anything, since we submitted the plan, (the situation) has gotten much worse. So the idea of opening things up or being less restrictive, I can’t imagine they’re looking at that right now, because there’s a lot bigger issues than what we’re talking about with high school athletics.”
As the waiting game continues, the Southern Section does have additional scheduling flexibility thanks to the CIF State announcement. Without regional and championship rounds in the state playoffs, the sections now have two additional weeks of wiggle room in their fall schedules.
“The way our schedules are built, is when the dates for the State Regional or State Championships are set, we move backwards from there,” Wigod said. “When they take the back end off, now the maximum amount of flexibility is there, because we are no longer beholden to an end date that the state has. If we are unable to conduct section championships in their usual format, we have the ability to use that time frame to do whatever benefits our section.”
Due to the uncertainty around the upcoming season, Wigod said the CIF-SS remains open-minded about how to conduct postseason play. There is already a scheduled announcement on January 19 which will provide an update on fall season championships, based on the data at the time and with guidance from health officials.
As it relates to football, which will require the longest run up of practice time prior to the start of the season, the CIF-SS is exploring other contingencies for postseason play. If football season were delayed and shortened to just a few league games, for instance, then there would be other possibilities on the table to provide as many games as possible for member schools.
“Maybe there’s a postseason opportunity to put something together on a bowl game kind of basis,” Wigod said. “You want to be in a position where you can provide the maximum number of opportunities to allow student-athletes to play. If we aren’t able to hold section championships the way we normally would, those could become additional weeks for league play to get through league championships, and that gets more games for student-athletes. That’s not something I can say we’re doing for sure yet, but we’re going to have a better idea on January 19 of what kind of reality we’re looking at.”
Additionally, the CIF State office also moved the boys’ volleyball championships to the spring season, with new competition dates to be announced soon. That will allow each section to determine whether boys’ volleyball will be played during the fall–as outlined in the modified 2020-21 schedule–or push it back to spring, when the season is traditionally held. Wigod said the CIF-SS office will request feedback from its member schools before making a determination on when boys’ volleyball will be played.
While it seems that the only constant has been change so far in 2020, Wigod and the CIF-SS are holding to their modified schedule, and remain hopeful that high school sports can return in some capacity this season.
“We just have to ultimately see progress made and be confident that people can be on campus and be involved in high school athletics in a healthy and safe way,” said Wigod. “And that people can watch events as spectators in a healthy and safe way. All of that needs to be restored so that we can get back to what we love to do and what we know the student-athletes love to do.”