What’s Next for CIF Fall Sports?

Four players from 2019 CIF D2-AA state champion Clayton Valley (Concord) stretch in their end zone using social distancing during a workout earlier this week. Photo: Harold Abend.

As schools across the state have begun to conduct conditioning workouts this week for football players, the CIF on Friday issued a statement that it won’t be known for sure what might happen for the fall sports schedule until July 20. No one knows for sure because the pandemic itself is only three months into it and new spikes and outbreaks can alter any plans at any time. Still, here’s an overview of where the state sits in relation to fall sports (and football) and which school district we plan to be monitoring very closely to see what it decides to do.

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Wheatland High of the CIF Northern Section and near Yuba City-Marysville appears to have been the first school in the state to start football workouts when it got the okay from its Sutter County health officials. Players hit the field back on May 27.

Other schools, mostly in Northern California, have followed suit, many just this week.

Is that a good sign that the upcoming football season in the state will be conducted as close to normal? Yes, but teams this week and those slated to begin next week are meeting under strict protocols. This includes six feet apart for those doing drills, only a group of 10 can be together at any one time, no ball or any other equipment can be used, no weight room and some are doing temperature checks for each player at arrival.

Going from workouts such as that to all-out football practices and actual games could still be a leap that many school districts may not be willing to take and if enough of them postpone the start of fall sports then the CIF and many of its sections will have to follow.

On Friday, after the 10 CIF section commissioners in the state had met on conference calls over three days, the CIF issued its own guidelines about school districts reopening fall sports practices. Those were what anyone following the response to the pandemic would expect. A statement also was released in which the date of July 20 was chosen as when there would be a more solid answer as to what might happen. Here is that statement:

“The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) believes education-based athletics and all co-curricular activities are essential to the physical, mental, and social well-being of students and realizes the impact and challenges that COVID-19 has caused for our member schools and education-based athletics. We continue to monitor the directives and guidelines released from the Governor’s Office, the California Department of Education and State/Local County Health Departments and Agencies as these directives and guidelines are followed by our member schools/school districts when they are planning when and how to reopen school this Fall. As our member schools begin planning for the reopening of school, the CIF, in collaboration with our 10 Sections, will be determining by July 20 if Fall Sports will continue as currently scheduled. The CIF is prepared to offer alternative calendars if it is determined by July 20 that Fall sports may not start as scheduled due to ongoing public health and safety concerns.”

CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod also issued a statement, which in part said:

“I want to remind you that the decisions to reopen our schools, and subsequently bring back athletic programs after they have started their academic year, will be made entirely by each local Superintendent/School Board from a public school district or each private school Head of School/School Board who have the authority to make those decisions. I am sure they will follow the recommendations of state and local health authorities in arriving at the decisions that are in the best interests of their students and school communities.”

Valencia High has been the dominant football program in recent years in the William S. Hart High School District. Photo: @VHSVikingsFball/Twitter.com.

The key to following what comes next may be to follow how some of the state’s largest school districts reopen and then address their sports programs. These decisions may not be entirely due to the health concerns regarding the Coronavirus pandemic, either. The state budget for the year is currently under negotiation and if there are massive budget cuts for school districts (also due to the pandemic), if there is no further relief from Congress and the federal government and if they have to do things like hire additional nurses and spend money for reopening safely, then athletic programs could face severe cuts as well.

The state’s 10 largest school districts are Los Angeles Unified, San Diego Unified, Fresno Unified, Long Beach Unified, Elk Grove Unified, San Francisco Unified, Capistrano Unified, Corona-Norco Unified, San Bernardino City Unified and Santa Ana Unified. There are are others that we at Cal-Hi Sports will be monitoring closely for updates, including our home base Stockton Unified, plus Clovis Unified and even some smaller ones in certain counties of the state that have had low hospitalization numbers of COVID-19 patients.

The one school district we may be looking at the most closely, though, is the William S. Hart High School District of the Santa Clarita Valley. That district way back on March 13 announced that schools would not re-open for the rest of the 2019-20 school year and that spring sports competition was over. By April 3, the rest of the state had done the same. If the Hart district kids start practicing and haven’t started cancelling games scheduled in August by July 20, that’s a very, very good sign.

We know school districts still haven’t made any set plans about reopening actual school campuses in August. Those would likely have to be made first before even thinking about high school sports. It does seem likely that hardly any of them will be reopening with everyone returning to classes all at the same time. It’s going to be a combination of some kids learning every day on-line and some going to the school site.

Watching some sports with close contact already back like European soccer and Korean baseball can offer some hope as well. It also is just plain common sense in following everything known about the virus so far that being outside (like a football game would be) is much safer than being inside (like 2,000 people stuffed into a gym for a big basketball game).

At this point it’s hard to see that either the best-worst case scenarios of everything back to normal by the fall or everything canceled and moved to later in the school year will happen. Some have speculated a type of season could be held in which some preleague games will be canceled, followed by regular league games and then concluding with section playoffs but with no regional or state playoff games. Basically, travel will have to be a major concern, especially travel between parts of the state that may be in different phases of reopening.

It’s also possible that the season could begin as scheduled, but would have to be shut down if there’s another major outbreak of the virus in November (as many health experts predict). The November election also could be followed by major civil unrest in the streets depending on how the results are viewed by the losing presidential candidate and political party.

If it ends up that the CIF will not be able to conduct state title games in football, we do hope regional games can be played at a minimum and that there are NorCal and SoCal Open Division championships, especially if Helix of La Mesa and Central of Fresno win again in the top divisions of their sections. A Helix vs. St. John Bosco/Mater Dei winner and Central vs. De La Salle of Concord would be matchups to potentially get excited about.

And getting excited about actual football games instead of speculating on the impacts of a pandemic sure would be nice.

Mark Tennis is the editor and publisher of Cal-Hi Sports. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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