January Football Restart In Jeopardy

At left is how the state’s county-by-county blueprint for reopening map looked two weeks ago with just 10 counties considered purple or highest risk. At right is the map after it was updated on Monday, Nov. 16. Only 15 of them are not purple. Photos: covid19.ca.gov.

All you have to do is take a look at the state’s new COVID map that reflects the latest case numbers and positivity rates to see how the latest surge with the Coronavirus pandemic is going to impact the scheduled restart of high school sports in the state in January. We’ve been down this road before.

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There have been two times previously since the Coronavirus pandemic began to hit the state and nation in mid-March that those involved in California high school sports have been waiting with hopeful anticipation for practices and competitions to begin.

And every time there has been a surge in case numbers and positivity rates, that has made the actions taken by the California Interscholastic Federation and its sections gut-wrenching but also easy.

The first time was in the middle of the spring when all spring sports competitions and CIF events were cancelled for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. The second time was in the middle of July when the CIF chose to delay all of its fall sports competitions until after the December-January 1 traditional holiday break.

The latest high hopes about football in particular to restart in January were dealt a blow on Monday when Governor Gavin Newsom announced that almost the entire state would be placed into the most restrictive tier of reopening (purple) and that most indoor businesses would have to close down again.

When the pandemic began, public health experts warned that there would be a surge in the spread of the virus when the weather began to get colder. There was an earlier surge in July after the Fourth of July holiday and now this latest surge is taking off. It is even worse in many other parts of the country with the nationwide trends beginning to really hit in California in the last week to 10 days.

Most high schools still have three weeks to go until the calendar adopted in July by the CIF calls for football practices to begin. With the Thanksgiving holiday happening before that, though, and family gatherings unlikely to be altered by a large chunk of the population, it will be a major surprise to see case numbers and virus spread going down any time soon.

Last week, the state’s primary public health expert, Dr. Mark Ghaly, explained that new guidelines would be coming soon for youth sports. The CIF needs those guidelines before it can authorize competitions to restart. On Monday, Newsom and Ghaly said that those guidelines were finished, but they’d have to be postponed in releasing them because of this latest surge.

This is what the CIF released later in the day on Monday: “In today’s COVID-19 press briefing, Governor Newsom and Dr. Mark Ghaly from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) disclosed that the release of updated youth sports guidance has been postponed. Therefore, the current guidance remains in effect, and CIF competitions are not allowed until new guidance is provided.”

The state’s largest section, the CIF Southern Section, also announced later in the day that it was closing its office. “The CIF Southern Section, due to Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement today related to the increase in COVID-19 cases, will be closing our office effective tomorrow, Tuesday, November 17, 2020 until further notice,” the section stated. “We will re-evaluate our office service based on the recommendations and guidance of local, state and federal health organizations as they evolve. During this time, all employees will work remotely and will continue to be reachable via their individual email accounts and our main switchboard.”

CIF Sac-Joaquin Section assistant commissioner Will DeBoard told FOX40 TV in Sacramento that the schedule calling for a an early December practice start for fall sports in that section still remains in place, and added that sports like cross country and water polo may still get to proceed as scheduled but with more difficulty for football.

All of this comes as several coaching alliances and parents groups are continuing to implore local and state health leaders to give the kids a chance at being able to play in January. What’s not known is how much lower the case numbers and positivity rates have to go for that to even be a consideration. If they continue to rise and something like another stay at home order is made, none of those pleas will have a chance.

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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