It’s looking much more unlikely there will be a 2020 high school football season in California this fall based on growing numbers of school districts across the state that will be starting up the school year in a few weeks with distance learning only. Those going with a hybrid model may find it almost impossible to do, too. We offer an updated look with one week to go before the CIF announces its plans for fall sports plus go over the suggestion of having football as a fall sport in a couple places with it going to January for everywhere else.
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There is just one week to go before the California Interscholastic Federation issues its next directives regarding the fall high school sports season, including football, but as the numbers of cases, positivity of testing and hospitalizations continue to rise in most counties of the state, it’s even more doubtful than last week that any sports will be going on as scheduled in August.
Last week was not good for those hoping for a semblance of a regular season in football this fall. First, the California Community College Athletic Association announced that all fall sports, including the “safer” sports of women’s volleyball and cross country, will move to the spring semester. That announcement was supposed to come this week, but it was moved up as many counties in the state slowed down or scaled back reopening plans. Second, several college conferences announced updates for the fall, including the Ivy League postponing its football season until after Jan. 1 and the Pac-12 Conference cancelling all non-conference games.
The CIF could still go for more of a Pac-12 approach, cancelling all non-league football games for August and early September and then seeing how the virus outbreak is doing in a month or so for a possible shorter season beginning in October. But even if the situation is improved, a lot of school districts still may not be out of distance learning by then and it would seem logical that the first step toward sports is for most students to actually be in school first.
In looking over all of the public school district reopening plans in the state we could find, there wasn’t a single one advocating for a full-return to in-person learning. The only schools offering a full return are private schools, such as St. John Bosco of Bellflower (going back Aug. 17).
A more significant development just on Monday was the announcement by the L.A. Unified and San Diego Unified school districts — the two largest in the state — that both will open the school year next month with distance learning only and no in-person classes (at least until the pandemic gets more under control).
All of the districts at least have the option of parents and families opting for distance learning, and most of them are either undecided heading into this week or going with the hybrid model (which calls for a combination of students being on campus a couple of days per week combined with distance learning).
Still, there is a growing number of school districts that already have announced they would be going for distance learning only (at least to start the school year). This list includes (in alphabetical order):
Castro Valley Unified (CIF North Coast Section)
Fremont Unified (CIF North Coast Section
Jurupa Unified (CIF Southern Section)
Los Angeles Unified (CIF L.A. City Section)
Palo Alto Unified (CIF Central Coast Section)
Perris Unified (CIF Southern Section)
Palm Springs Unified (CIF Southern Section)
Salinas Unified (CIF Central Coast Section)
San Bernardino City Unified (CIF Southern Section)
San Diego Unified (CIF San Diego Section)
Santa Clara Unified (CIF Central Coast Section)
Stanislaus County Dept of Ed (CIF Sac-Joaquin Section)
Stockton Unified (CIF Sac-Joaquin Section)
Sweetwater Union High School District (CIF San Diego Section)
More school districts will be determining plans early this week and it’s known there will be a high percentage of teachers who will be advocating for full-time distance learning. This isn’t because they don’t prefer to be back in the classroom, but they’re looking at the blossoming COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations and they’re worried.
In the Fremont Unified board vote in the Bay Area, it was explicitly mentioned that it would remain in distance learning until there are no new cases in Alameda County for seven days.
Before the L.A. Unified decision was announced on Monday, it was reported late last week that 83 percent of United Teachers of L.A. members voted in a survey that schools should not physically re-open on August 18.
Teachers we know (yes, wife Kathleen Moody teaches sixth grade in Stockton) are well aware that the kids themselves are not much of a risk of getting or passing along the virus, but there’s just so many people at a school site and still a lot of unknowns about this virus. They also believe that they’ll actually be able to teach much more effectively via distance learning instead of having to deal with kids wearing masks, staying in groups and getting them to social distance. Once the virus is more under control, like in many other places around the world, then they’ll feel much more confident about coming back.
For those schools that do return in a few weeks with a hybrid distance learning/in-person model, the problem may be those teachers who still aren’t coming back and who will use up eligible sick time. Some may just go for early retirement. So who’s going to teach those in-person kids then? Substitutes? Many subs are actually older, retired teachers and a lot of them sure aren’t going to risk their health to make a few extra dollars, either. The in-person plans will then just consist of a lot of baby-sitting in many places.
As with everything else in society these days, the first step seems to be to simply beat back the actual virus through the same steps we’ve all heard about for months: wear masks in public, social distancing, wash hands, and avoid going anywhere other than essential trips.
We all hope every student-athlete in the state gets to compete during the 2020-21 school year in all of their sports. No one is rooting for the worst-case scenarios. It’s just a reality that has become all too familiar.
FALL SPORTS: EVER-EVOLVING LIST
It was only a couple of years ago when parts of California still played boys soccer as a fall sport and girls soccer as a spring sport. That was mostly up north, but as the CIF expanded to boys and girls soccer regional playoffs, all soccer in California was switched to the winter calendar.
Around the country, in soccer and softball, there are still a significant number of states that play those sports during the fall. In softball, we did fall season national rankings last fall for our partners at ExtraInningSoftball.com and included teams from Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Missouri and Georgia. Our former colleague at Student Sports, Sheldon Shealer of Top Drawer Soccer, actually does boys and girls soccer national rankings for all three seasons — fall, winter and spring.
This got us to thinking about at least the possibility of the CIF offering fall football as a possibility for those rural counties in which the Coronavirus has not actually hit very hard. Why not? California is such a gargantuan state that different facts and different public health concerns can be much different in different places.
This isn’t a large group of schools, for sure, but those in the CIF Northern Section (including Modoc County with zero cases) and a couple of leagues in the Sac-Joaquin (thinking small schools in the Mother Lode region) might want to actually play in the fall and logistically maybe could play in the fall. We don’t know if that is even possible, but we’d hope all scenarios are at least seriously considered by the CIF.
DOING RANKINGS IN THE AGE OF CORONAVIRUS
If there are some states that have fall football and California does not, does that mean that our great teams like St. John Bosco and Mater Dei can’t be No. 1 in the nation? No, it just means they can’t be No. 1 for those states playing in the fall. They’d instead be counted among schools playing in the winter.
In softball for ExtraInning, before this last spring was wiped out by the pandemic, the plan was to do a combo final national FAB 50 for all teams that were in the final rankings for the fall season and spring season. There’s no reason the same thing can’t be done in football, but we obviously can’t speak for those media companies that currently put together those rankings.
The extra problem of the fall season — and even for football in the winter — is what will happen in the rankings when a top team has to forfeit in the playoffs for having a player or two test positive. Iowa, which is the only state in which baseball and softball is played as a summer sport (by those who will be seniors in the fall), already has had that happen this summer in baseball more than once.
Ranking teams with forfeit losses, however, has never been a problem for us. It will always be based on results on the field or on the court. We’ve ranked at least one team No. 1 in the state that wasn’t eligible for a CIF state title when Westchester of Los Angeles was on top in boys basketball in 2004. A team from the Comets’ same league that they beat twice, Fairfax, did win the CIF D1 state crown that season.