BIG Changes in CIF 2020-21 School Year

All five sports covered closely by Cal-Hi Sports (including boys basketball) are greatly impacted by the calendar changes announced on Monday by the California Interscholastic Federation and its 10 section offices. Photos: / @ORHS_Football / Willie Eashman & @v1K1ngsbaseball.

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to progress in a high percentage of counties in the state and as most school districts have announced reopening in August with no students yet back on campus, the California Interscholastic Federation announced its 2020-21 school year calendar on Monday, saying the 10 different sections could set their own calendars for fall sports pushed back several months. Sections then followed with most announcing they would not not start fall sports (led by football) until January of 2021. One section still may start this fall. The move also impacts all winter sports and all spring sports for the 2020-21 school year. Go inside for history lesson, CIF state championship possibilities and other details.

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Those hoping that last spring’s cancellations of high school sports throughout California due to the Coronavirus pandemic would be just a one-time occurrence knew that if fall sports could be played this year in the fall that it would all depend on the numbers. How many people in the state were getting infected in July? How many school districts in the state would be getting ready to open with students coming back on campus?

As those numbers trended in the wrong direction over the last two to three weeks, what happened on Monday then became more of a formality. It just wasn’t quite as simple as the California Interscholastic Federation mandating that all fall sports have to be postponed until after January 1 of 2021.

The CIF said in announcing its calendar that fall sports would be delayed, but left starting dates up to each of the 10 different CIF sections. The CIF also placed all winter high school sports into those sports traditionally played in the spring and combined them with traditional spring sports. Most of the sections then announced their calendars after the CIF state announcement, including the largest one (CIF Southern Section), which is going to have its teams play initial football games beginning on January 8.

The good news, though, is that graduating seniors will all be getting a season of some sort. CIF leaders and high school coaches, administrators and others providing support are all committed to that. The virus itself, however, has be more under control first and certainly most schools need to be fully open.

“We are continuously monitoring the directives and guidelines released from the Governor’s Office, the California Department of Education, the California Department of Public Health, and local county health departments and agencies as these directives and guidelines are followed by our member schools/school districts with student health and safety at the forefront,” said the CIF in a statement.

CIF Section By Section Starting Dates

Southern Section: Football January 8, Boys & Girls Basketball March 12, Baseball & Softball March 19. CIFSS commissioner Rob Wigod said in a Zoom call with reporters that “If we had made this announcement on July 1, it probably would have been different than it is today.” He added in the same Zoom call that it would be up to schools to determine if fans were allowed at games and events. It also was decided specifically to place girls volleyball and basketball as separate seasons (rather than basketball starting in January) due to gym availability. Wigod additionally mentioned that as of now the CIF and its sections are planning on the 2021-22 school year to return to traditional schedules.

L.A. City Section: Football January 8, Boys & Girls Basketball March 12, Baseball & Softball March 19. Section Sports Information Director Dick Dornan said on a Zoom call reported by Tarek Fattal of the L.A. Daily News that there is “Hopeful optimism. Until LAUSD allows school back, there will be no sports. Have to cross our fingers things are better by Thanksgiving.”

San Diego Section: Official dates from the section are still to come pending meetings with various committees. It is anticipated, though, that the start dates will be similar to the Southern and L.A. City sections. “We understand that this has been a difficult period of time for our student athletes, coaches, athletic administrators, and parents with so much uncertainty and information changing on a daily basis,” a statement by the section said. “With a plan in place, we look forward to continuing to collaborate with leaders from across our section and state as we prepare for the start of the 2020-2021 athletic year.”

Players from Sutter celebrate after winning 2019 title in CIF Northern Section. Photo:

Northern Section: One of the biggest questions of the day was whether this section, with a lot of smaller schools and from mostly rural counties that are not on the state’s Coronavirus watch list, might continue to look at a traditional school year sports calendar. The answer was yes. The section announced that schools could begin league play in fall sports in the fall when member school districts’ County Health officers approve the implementation of youth sports (including high school sports). More details to come, but commissioner Liz Kyle said that it “is still the intent of the CIF-NS to host a section playoff for fall sports using a modified playoff structure.” In the state’s 12 noon Coronavirus update, three Northern Section counties (Sutter, Glenn, Colusa) were on the watch list. Yolo and Yuba counties were on it as well. If all goes as planned, if there are fall football teams that do complete their seasons, we would have to include those teams in the Winter 2021 football season state rankings. There isn’t enough of them to do separate fall/winter rankings that will have to be done nationally with some states playing football in the fall and others in winter.

Sac-Joaquin Section: Football January 8, Boys & Girls Basketball March 9, Baseball & Softball March 22. Said commissioner Mike Garrison in a statement: “Over the last couple months, we have been exploring, developing, and reviewing a variety of different scenarios to deliver fall, winter, and spring sports – this has been done both state and section wide. Because of the complexities and fluidity of the COVID pandemic situation, it has required our organization to take a slow and methodical approach with consistent re-evaluation of plans.”

North Coast Section: Football January 6, Boys & Girls Basketball First Date of Practice March 15, Baseball & Softball First Date of Practice March 15. The NCS didn’t list dates for first games, but could be that the March 15 date is for actual games (matching other sections). “This calendar considers the physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being of those students that we are so fortunate to serve in our section and throughout the state,” said second-year commissioner Pat Cruikshank. “This upcoming school year will require creativity, flexibility, and working together to best serve those student-athletes.”

Central Coast Section: Incoming new commissioner David Grissom will be part of a CCS Board of Managers meeting on Tuesday. A new calendar, likely to be close to what is happening in the NCS in the Bay Area, will be released later in the day.

Central Section: Football January 7, Boys & Girls Basketball March 20, Baseball & Softball March 27. Incoming new commissioner Ryan Tos (the former assistant commissioner of the Sac-Joaquin) said in a statement: “From today forward, I hope we focus on the opportunities that this plan provides for our student-athletes. The upcoming school year will test the resolve, adaptability and determination of all involved.”

Note: San Francisco & Oakland sections TBA or not reported on plans.

Scotty Pippen Jr. was effective for Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth during 2018 win over Sheldon of Sacramento in CIF Open Division state final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

CIF State Championship Updates

It was a priority from the outset that the CIF wouldn’t do much to limit section championships so it was decided that with all seasons being shortened that there would only be one week for regional/state playoffs after the section playoffs.

“We didn’t want to do anything that would limit the section championships from being played in their entirety if it all possible,” CIF executive director Ron Nocetti told the Alameda Newspaper Group. “I think that’s why you saw the limit to the state events to just one week.

“Some of our sports go straight to state events, like cross country, wrestling, track and field and swimming and diving. The others will be regional-based events.”

According to that comment, this means that pending no other changes to the schedule, that there will be no state finals in football, boys basketball or girls basketball. Could there still be the chance of an Open Division state final in those sports? Not likely. But there could be Open Division regional finals, for example St. John Bosco/Mater Dei vs. Helix in SoCal football or De La Salle vs. Central/Fresno in NorCal football.

We do have additional sources that say basketball state finals are to be determined, but assuming they don’t happen it also means that for the second straight season there wouldn’t be a CIF state championship weekend in boys & girls basketball. This year’s finals, remember, were cancelled on the Thursday morning before Friday’s games were set to begin in Sacramento when the pandemic first began to spread.

It had already been decided last January that the CIF would institute regional playoffs for the 2020-21 school year in baseball and softball (the first ever for softball and the first since 1922 in baseball). Monday’s announcement didn’t mention any kind of a postponement with both events on the calendar.


*The CIF state release also announced the suspension of CIF bylaws 600-605 that involve the eligibility of student-athletes competing on club/travel teams at the same time as high school teams. They couldn’t obviously keep that rule in place with all of the high school seasons being moved into the same time frames as most club/travel seasons so it will now be possible for those student-athletes to participate in both at the same time. What happens when someone has a major club/travel event on the same weekend as a possible CIF section or regional championship will be one of the interesting storylines to follow in March and June.

Santa Barbara’s Deacon Hill takes a breather while preparing to catch passes during one of the Elite 11 quarterback drills last March at Cerritos College. Photo: Mark Tennis.

*The first significant football player to declare he would still be graduating in January and reporting to his college was all-state defensive tackle Victory Vaka from Westlake of Westlake Village. Instead of playing for the Warriors, Vaka will be heading to Texas A&M. QB Deacon Hill of Santa Barbara (Wisconsin) added later he was staying for his senior season. All-American DE Korey Foreman of Corona Centennial then tweeted a comment that made it appear that he would not be playing for the Huskies and instead reporting to college. Seeing how many of these types of graduating seniors in football stay or go will be another major development. If they go, that makes sense but they can’t also be on any preseason all-state or all-section teams.

*Schools seem to be scrapping all Week 0 games from their football schedules and attempting to fill previously scheduled bye weeks. This year’s Corona Centennial-Santa Ana Mater Dei contest was a Week 0 game. The two may play later, but it was uncertain at the end of the day. A lot of athletic directors will be scrambling this week to fill open dates on the new calendar.

*Holiday basketball tournaments, which have been such a traditional part of those final two weeks in December, may still be played this year, but CIFSS commissioner Rob Wigod mentioned in his Zoom call that it would be have be considered part of a school’s summer schedule. Later in the day, other major basketball one-day events, such as the Rolling Hills Prep State Preview, announced rescheduled dates to that same numbered week of the seasons they already were supposed to happen.

History Lesson

During World War II in the early 1940s, in a time when California and the nation were under great duress, high school athletics did indeed still take place.

There were cancellations during World War II and limited schedules, but it wasn’t a complete shutdown. In those war years, the only state championships in which the CIF offered was for boys track-and-field and there were no state meets held from 1942 to 1945.

All schools played regular football schedules in 1941 since Pearl Harbor didn’t happen until December 7 of that year. Some didn’t play at all in 1942, but many did and a few played full schedules into the playoffs, including the listed 1942 State Football Team of the Year, 11-0 Bonita of La Verne with future Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis. There were a lot of differences as well in 1942, 1943 and 1944 with some schools playing just a handful of games and others playing six or more.

As the war progressed, the potential of any invasion of the United States (and West Coast by Japanese) diminished greatly. High schools themselves never closed, kids still went to school everywhere and they still did sports. It wasn’t a pandemic.

The CIF itself, of course, goes back much longer than World War II and this isn’t the first time a pandemic has impacted high school athletics. That was during the 1918-19 school year when the influenza pandemic was surging across the world and began hitting California in the fall of that year. The early state football playoffs had begun in 1915, but did not happen in 1918 due to the pandemic. There also were no CIF state championships held for the 1918-19 school year in boys basketball, but the influenza seemed to improve later that spring. There was a 1919 CIF state track meet and even a 1919 CIF state championship held in baseball. (Note: Oakland Tech won in that baseball state final, 2-1, over Fullerton and in track was second by just one point in team standings behind Los Angeles Manual Arts in track).

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

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  1. Eugene Chung
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    What does the term “regional playoffs” mean with respect to baseball and softball for 2020-2021 season? It does not sound like it means a state championship playoff. There are already divisional championships within a section. Does the term mean having a sectional championship?

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted July 23, 2020 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      Baseball and softball are still scheduled to have regional playoffs for one week beyond the section playoffs. Still to be determined would be format and number of teams. This means after a team were to win its section title it would have more games after that against teams from other sections.

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