It may be down to less than two weeks before it becomes too late for there to be a short spring high school football season in some places in California. Tuesday saw Governor Gavin Newsom address the issue at a press conference at Levi’s Stadium plus there was a slight improvement on the state’s county-by-county color-tiered map it is using for fully reopening schools and other businesses. Here’s a recap of where things stand on the virus-caused sports shutdown from a statewide vantage point.
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There was more optimistic talk from Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday when he was asked a question regarding an update on allowing youth sports to resume at a press event held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
“We don’t have a deal yet,” he said during a visit designed to promote the stadium as a major vaccination site in Santa Clara County. “As I just noted a moment ago, we’re making real progress, and I can say that confidently, knowingly. And over the course of the next few days, we recognize we have a few days to get some clarity on schools and on youth sports.”
Earlier in his opening remarks, Newsom referenced his own family (he has four children) in talking about wanting to finalize a safe return for youth sports (including high school sports).
“We’ve been negotiating the details of that,” said the former baseball and basketball player at Redwood High of Larkspur. “Real progress is being made. But we are mindful that that’s part of a larger conversation that includes — final words — schools. I am of the firm belief that we can safely get back our children, youngest children, get them back safely into schools in small cohorts.”
Newsom clearly has been told that for the sport of football to get played during the 2020-21 school year that new state guidelines have to be announced very soon. This is because a possible, shortened football season this spring will have to be completed by April 17 (it has been listed as April 30 in more than CIF section) to allow for coaches and players to prepare for the 2021 fall season. And it’s not like the state can wave a magic wand and games can then begin. Practices need to be done, protocols put in place, schedules finalized, field usage figured out and more.
County By County Tier Updates
Under the current California Department of Public Health guidelines, the only sports that can be done by high schools are those that are listed in the same color-tier of each school’s county.
As of Tuesday’s updated county by county state map, there were only five that have moved out of the most restrictive purple tier. Two of those (Del Norte and Mariposa) were in the red (second most restrictive) while three of them (Trinity, Sierra and Alpine) were in the orange (third). That was a slight improvement from the previous week, but all five counties are in rural Northern California and represent only a handful of the state’s 1,600 high schools.
For the rest of the counties in the state, which are in purple, the only sports that can take place are those from cross country, swimming and diving, tennis and golf. Football is still showing for the orange tier and it is believed would have to be moved to purple or red or for counties to be given a green light by the state for each of them to allow for football (with protocols) regardless of color tier.
Football not only remains the most popular of high school sports, but has been at the center of several grassroots initiatives, including the #LetUsPlay movement and the Golden State Football Coaches Alliance. A letter-writing campaign to the governor and other legislators is set to end Thursday with those letters being hand-delivered in Sacramento. Late last week, leaders of the coaches’ movement — Serra of San Mateo’s Patrick Walsh, Torrey Pines of San Diego’s Ron Gladnick and De La Salle of Concord’s Justin Alumbaugh — met with California health secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and Governor Newsom’s chief of staff, Jim DeBoo, where progress was reported as positive.
California Interscholastic Federation executive director Ron Nocetti also was in on that meeting and gave an update on Friday at the annual February CIF State Federated Council meeting in which he urged school leaders to not yet postpone any athletics.
“I’m 100 percent confident the governor wants us to return to play,” Gladnick told the San Diego-Union Tribune last week. “That’s why we’re in a different level of engagement. He knows there is a groundswell of support.”
The Super Bowl Surge?
Part of the reason for a continued delay in getting any new health guidelines released may be simply as a nod to past experience in dealing with the deadly pandemic.
It didn’t take long for the state to start to see a surge in cases and positive test results after the Fourth of July holiday last summer and of course the most deadly and scariest times for hospital capacity during the pandemic are the weeks that just past following Christmas and New Year’s.
Health officials from Dr. Ghaly to Dr. Anthony Fauci implored people to not go to Super Bowl parties this year, but in a poll announced two days before last Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Bucs and Kansas City Chiefs there were 25 percent of respondents who indicated they were going to one anyway.
Before the game, all indicators surrounding the spread of the virus have continued to drop in the past two weeks. Vaccinations also are beginning to ramp up. But if too many people partied it up during the Super Bowl and those indicators start going up again, that would make it almost impossible for high school football to be played in the spring. All other sports in the so called Season 2 of spring, including baseball, softball, boys basketball and girls basketball, have until June 12 to get played so another delay of a few weeks wouldn’t be disastrous. But for football any setback now would surely be the final nail for any 2021 spring season.
People say politics shouldn’t have anything to do with a pandemic, but they most definitely shape almost every decision Democratic and Republican leaders make once it gets going.
That’s why one of the best aspects of the #LetUsPlay and Golden State Football coaches groups is that they’ve done a very good job of framing their pressure down the middle of the road. If it did become an issue similar to wearing masks and other red vs. blue matters, then those on the blue side would simply dig in, knowing that California voters are way more likely to support them.
At all of the rallies supporting letting them play, everyone wore masks and other than just one place in which a Republican politician spoke, there was little in the imaging shown to the rest of the state about recalls or angry people in red hats. We have a sense that a majority of the parents at those rallies rarely vote for Democrats, but in this case the goal is to give the kids a chance to play so the approach has to be conciliatory. Angry tweets notwithstanding, it has been.
An example of this approach paying off was that several of those one can describe as moderate Democratic assembly members signed a petition asking for the return of sports. We didn’t check the party affiliations for all of them, but know that Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Carlos Villapudua (D-San Joaquin County) were signers.
Increased opportunities for those eligible to be vaccinated also should be viewed as a great news. Newsom has done similar press events at Dodger Stadium, the Oakland Coliseum and at Petco Park in the last two weeks. Some of the very large vaccination centers are part of a federal effort, but no matter how it’s done we’d hope everyone get the shots as soon as they can when they become eligible for one.
No matter what happens the rest of the journey on this pandemic, the worst part of it for many coaches (especially those from fall sports) is the realization that many of them could have had their shorter, safe seasons last fall during the months of September (late), October and November (early) based on the CDPH’s own guidelines that came out last December 4.
If those same CDPH guidelines had come out, for example, in early September, then for a lot of those weeks many counties in the state were in the orange and red tiers and just a few were in the purple. That’s just a screw-up by the state that should have been avoided.
For the record, we don’t for one second think anyone should be playing sports when the pandemic is surging like it was several weeks ago and also during the beginning of it when mitigation efforts of just a few days have proved to be so important. But when the community spread is low and the schools/coaches are following all of the safety protocols, and when many can be tested, then it’s reasonable to let them play.