CIF Open Division finals still possible

K.J. Martin (left) of Sierra Canyon shoots during the last CIF Open Division boys basketball final. In the middle are two linemen from St. John Bosco after last December’s CIF Open Division state final. At right is Alexis Mark of Sierra Canyon shooting during the last CIF Open Division girls hoops final. Photos: Willie Eashman & Mark Tennis.


CIF executive director Ron Nocetti told Cal-Hi Sports on Wednesday that it is still possible for there to be CIF Open Division state championships during the 2021 seasons of football, boys basketball and girls basketball. That will depend on state public health guidelines surrounding travel and the Coronavirus pandemic continuing to wane, but the good news is that teams still dreaming about winning a CIF Open Division state title during the 2020-21 school year can keep those thoughts alive. The CIF also said Wednesday that current state guidelines wouldn’t permit an earlier return to fall sports like some other states have done and is continuing to work with its CIF section offices to successfully implement a January return for those sports.

RELATED: Interview with CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod
Comments from this year’s three new CIF section commissioners

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Talking about a return to normalcy on Wednesday was made even more comfortable for CIF executive director Ron Nocetti since the air in and around his Sacramento area home had returned to a more normal air quality index.

For almost the entire previous week, smoke in many parts of the state, especially the Central Valley from Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south, has been thick and unyielding to any type of breeze churning through the San Joaquin Delta.

Nocetti and the rest of the CIF state office staff have been mostly working from home, following Sacramento County public health protocols. That has been the case since the middle of March when the Coronavirus pandemic really got going and forced cancellation of the CIF state basketball championships at the Golden 1 Center. In April, the CIF and its 10 sections had to cancel the remainder of its spring calendar and then on July 20 came the announcement that fall sports for the 2020-21 school year would need to be postponed to January of 2021.

Before assuming his current role as executive director for the 2019-20 school year (replacing the retiring Roger Blake), Nocetti oversaw several of the CIF state championship events, including football. We were able to develop a strong relationship with him in those years so he was quick to agree to an interview this week surrounding the pandemic, other states reopening, smoke-filled air and upcoming regional/state championships in the five sports we primarily cover at Cal-Hi Sports (football, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball, softball).

All of Ron’s comments are written up from notes during the interview. Anything written in parentheses was not said by him and added to clarify or add context to the comment.

On the smoke:

“California is so diverse that there might have been differences in different places, but we would have seen at least two weeks and maybe three with a lot of football cancellations.”

“It’s not just football right now (both for the smoke and pandemic). I get it in the media that football is so big, but we’re not calling attention to a lot of kids who are not playing right now in a lot of other sports. It reminds you of everything that everyone is missing.”

“It’s something we have to be aware of. The sections did a good job two years ago without pre-planning. We’ll be ready in the future, but since we moved up the calendar one week we may have to back it up on the back end and we have a week’s flexibility to do that. We also know there are different ways of doing things and we have to be flexible, think outside the box.”

Executive Director Ron Nocetti is in his third year in the top administrative position at the CIF state office.


On returning to school & sports:

“Yes, we’ve said from the start that schools have to have the ability to return students to their campuses (for sports to start up again). The second step is guidance from the state. We’re all thankful in early August that the state allowed athletic conditioning to resume. We’re seeing more and more schools doing that. We definitely will see some of the same types of summer competitions for schools resuming soon.”

“The states that have been switching back to fall sports (including Colorado just this week) have been allowed to so do by their states. Even in a best case scenario in our state, it wouldn’t be until December until we’d be able to come back. By that time, we’re almost to the holiday break and the start of our calendar anyway.”

“Yes, absolutely we are paying attention to what’s happening in other states. The NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) has done a great job meeting with all 51 of the executive directors (including Washington DC as a state). We’ve also had regular calls with all of the states from what you may know in the NFHS as Section 7 and Section 8 which is comprised of most of the states not playing in the fall.”

“It is going to be a school by school or district by district decision for when sports returns. Even in a regular year, we have competitions for schools before their students have come back full-time to campus. I don’t see that as being much different later on.”

“Obviously, we will notice what the larger districts in the state are doing. We’re concerned, but don’t necessarily monitor. Our section commissioners have been doing that more. They’ve done a great job keeping track of their districts and school boards since the spring.”

Football

“When we made our announcement in August, we said we wanted our student-athletes to get to experience as much of a normal season as possible. That means preseason, regular season with league and then playoffs. We also recognized that having two weeks with a state playoff was going to be too difficult.”

“Once the section playoffs are done on that Saturday, we’ll put together the regional matchups the regular way we’ve been doing them (competitive equity seeding with as many as 15 divisions). We’ll wait closer to that date to see, but if a team is allowed to travel, an Open Division state final may be a possibility. It’s just one week for the Open Division anyway, so we could very well play that matchup.”

Basketball (Boys & Girls)

“We still have to work through all of the schools pending their return. We just have one week of regionals and the possibilities include having the same number of teams with additional divisions or fewer teams in the same divisions.”

“As with football, an Open Division (both boys and girls) is possible. A lot of that depends on what is going to be allowed by the state at the time.”

Baseball/Softball

“This was something that was approved by our schools so we wanted to continue with those plans (and not postpone them for a year).
It was approved as a regional championship (both sports) and also with single-game elimination eight-team brackets.”

“We are supposed to have them with Division I through Division V (brackets), but as you know competitive equity from the sections and competitive equity seeding (by the CIF) truly makes the top division an Open Division. The Open Division is becoming Division I in name only.”

“It’s written that the Central Section will have four teams in the north and four teams in the south (for those sports). Which ones going where will be determined by matchups and there’s also a regional component. As you know, Fresno teams tend to be in the north, Bakersfield in the south but it also could be best in some divisions for a Bakersfield team fitting better in the north.”

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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