In a move that was widely expected, the CIF Southern Section–the governing body for all local high school sports–announced that it’s canceling its Fall sports championships on Tuesday morning. Football, girls’ volleyball, cross country, and water polo will officially not have CIF-SS championships in the 2020-21 school year.
“There has not been enough progress made from the purple tier toward the orange tier for (these sports) to even begin competition this season,” said CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod in a press release. “Subsequently, there will not be sufficient time for those sports to conduct viable league play, which is necessary for us to be able to conduct Section Championships in those sports.”
The move brings some certainty to how sports will continue for the rest of this school year, but it leaves many other questions. First, the cancelation of these championships is not the cancelation of all activity in these sports. If the California Department of Public Health deems it safe for them to play at some point, they could still hold official contests as part of league play or a series of one-off games.
The only restriction on those kinds of contests are a school/school district’s willingness to sponsor them, and that those activities be completed by late March to mid-April (depending on the sport), on the dates set by the CIF-SS to officially close the 20-21 school year for these sports, and begin the 21-22 cycle.
Wigod emphasized that they are not canceling all activities for these sports, and that, in fact, they’re hoping they’re able to play in some capacity this school year.
“We are not canceling the entire seasons of Fall Sports, we are canceling the portion we have direct control over, Southern Section Championships,” he said. “We strongly support our member schools in returning to play, provided the guidelines distributed by the California Department of Public Health and local health authorities are adhered to.”
That’s a thorny issue. A few Orange County private high schools held “official” football games in violation of the CDPH order last week, as well as the CIF-SS’ mandate that seasons could not begin until the CDPH said they were allowed to. The CIF-SS confirmed they were aware of games and were looking into the situation.
There have also been club football, volleyball, and water polo leagues and games being contested across Southern California for much of the shutdown–those clubs have gotten increased attention recently due to the Winner Circle Athletics Champions League, a club football operation that’s drawn the usual larger spotlight that the sport usually brings. Club competitions are in violation of the CDPH mandate that youth sports not hold competitions until Jan. 25 at least–that date is likely to be extended but the CDPH has now missed its own deadline to update those guidelines twice.
The club activities run counter to CDPH guidelines, but don’t technically violate CIF-SS rules, since the CIF-SS has allowed for club sports and high school sports to operate simultaneously for this school year, for the first time. With the official ruling that Fall sports championships won’t be held this year, it’s likely that there will be more families opting for the club route, with WCA head Jordan Campbell saying he planned to expand the Champions League offerings after the CIF-SS announced the cancelations.
As for high schools holding official contests once the stay-at-home order is lifted, the prospects are bright in Long Beach. Local schools have a big advantage in that the Moore League is made up of six Long Beach Unified School District schools plus one from Compton Unified. With league secretary Lisa Ulmer a full-time LBUSD employee, that streamlines the process enormously–some other leagues are made up of schools from five or six different districts, further complicating those decisions.
“We’re open to having some kind of a season,” said Ulmer. “We would love to have a season where the kids can at least enjoy some competition and camaraderie and normalcy. We can’t act on anything until the numbers are better, but I know our athletic directors have already talked about that idea.”
There won’t be any further updates on Fall sports until the CDPH issues guidelines, or until stay-at-home orders are lifted. For the remainder of the high school sports in Southern California, they’re still in a waiting game, hoping that numbers improve enough for the health department to allow them to proceed. Several of those sports are allowed to be contested in the purple tier and are very likely to have seasons this school year, but they can’t start that process until the stay-at-home orders are lifted.