There are 12 days left before a lot of stakeholders believe there is a deadline of sorts for there to be high school football played anywhere in California during the 2020-21 school year. Here’s a statewide snapshot as of Wednesday, Feb. 17, of the most significant events, stories, facts and figures in the last few days of the coronavirus shutdowns.
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This is one of the trickiest posts we’ve done since the COVID-19 pandemic began almost one year ago. At any point this week and into next week, a decision could be announced by the California Department of Public Health or from Governor Gavin Newsom about new health guidelines from the state that will make it possible for more high school sports, including football, to get back into action very soon.
Those guidelines are needed so that the California Interscholastic Federation and its 10 sections can give the green light for competitions between schools to begin. Under the current guidelines, which were released last December, schools around the state have already begun to stage boys and girls cross country meets. Those events can be held because cross country is shown as a sport that can be held when a county is in the purple tier of the state’s four-tiered system of when counties can re-open businesses and schools.
Football is currently shown as a sport that needs to be in the orange tier, which means that if the guidelines don’t change, that there is almost no chance it can played this school year. A county would need to not only move into the red (or second most restrictive tier after purple) but also then out of the red and into orange for football to be played. There is now clearly no time left for all of that to happen before early March, and early March is the deadline that almost all schools and football coaches in the state have been going by because they’ll need to be finished for any games played for this school year by the end of April.
The April deadline to be done with football is another part of the equation that could change. The CIF Medical Advisory committee had given April 17 at first as the final day for any possible football games to be played, but in January the CIF changed that to allow for games until the last day of the month or May 1. Most of the CIF sections, however, are still going by the April 17 date other than the CIF L.A. City Section and CIF Northern Section. It’s likely that if the extra two weeks would allow for more schools and more kids to play more games that the later date would become much more common.
Coaches heavily involved in the #LetThemPlayCA movement and in the Golden State Football Coaches Alliance have been front and center with a push to get those guidelines updated or to have football and other sports removed from the color-tiered system. One has to assume that leaders in the CIF also have been in meetings with officials from the CDPH and governor’s office.
The timeline that those pushing for football to be played this spring goes something like this: 1. State issues new health guidelines that gives green light for football in counties that reach certain levels of virus spread; 2. Schools in counties that are under those numbers begin practicing football by March 1; 3. Games begin as early as March 12-13 with time for six or seven weeks; 4. Spring season complete by April 17 or April 30/May 1.
One of the delays for step one above probably is because the state has been waiting to see if there has been any kind of uptick in the spread of the virus in the days following the Super Bowl and people possibly who gathered at Super Bowl parties. As of Monday, Feb. 16, however, all of the reporting data surrounding hospitalizations, positivity rate and deaths have continued to trend downward. Governor Newsom said at a press conference at Cal State L.A. that the positivity rate in the state was at just 3.5 percent and that hospitalizations were down 39 percent from where they were one month earlier. Newsom also mentioned that 6.3 million vaccinations had been given.
Although it was only rural Plumas County on Tuesday that moved from the purple into the red tier, Newsom mentioned as well on Monday that a “substantial” number of counties in the state were on track to make the same move next week. Tuesday of next week could therefore be a big day toward the state’s reopening. It also would be a good day perhaps for the state to make a big announcement on high school sports and it would still offer plenty of time for coaches and schools to get ready for football practices to begin several days later.
In all of this it also has to be stressed that even if there are new guidelines that individual school districts can still decline to let their football teams play. We would think most of them in suburban areas and where the virus has low transmission numbers will be fine, but where it’s been bad (especially in parts of L.A. County) a lot of schools will be much more cautious.
Perhaps the most significant football coach in the state to pass away after contracting COVID-19 is Joe Wood, who was the 1996 State Medium Schools Coach of the Year, and who succumbed to the disease last weekend at age 71.
Wood was the first coach at new school Aliso Niguel of Aliso Viejo in the 1990s and it was there in 1996 when the Wolverines went 14-0 and won the CIF Southern Section Division VIII title with a 32-21 win over Pacifica of Garden Grove.
In the last few years, Wood had been serving as an assistant to head coach Jaime Ortiz at San Clemente, including the school’s 2016 team that won the CIF Division 1-A state title with a victory over Del Oro of Loomis. Wood also had assistant coaching stops at Capistrano Valley of Mission Viejo and at two colleges: Utah State and Oregon.
Cal-Hi Sports offers its condolences and best wishes to the San Clemente, Aliso Niguel and to the Wood family.
Signatures presented at Capitol
Rain held off until later in the day last Thursday at the State Capitol in Sacramento where organizers of the #LetUsPlayCA movement and the Golden State Football Coaches Alliance, led by the Serra of San Mateo’s Patrick Walsh and San Diego Torrey Pines’ Ron Gladnick, personally delivered more than 11,000 signatures from California student-athletes the Governor’s office, demanding a return to high school sports.
Speakers included several athletes who spoke of the difficulty they’ve had since the pandemic began. A press release sent to all major state prep sports media outlets before the event also included several strong, personal stories from parents and student-athletes about their own experiences.
What happened after the event, however, overshadowed much of the social media buzz about it. That was a statement given by the Governor’s office to Sacramento TV sports reporter Michelle Dapper of KCRA Channel 3. In that statement, the office mentioned that new guidelines from the state would be coming “within two weeks.” That was different than the governor himself saying two days earlier at a different press event that there would be something announced “in a number of days.”
Dapper received an additional clarification the next day only that the state was working toward reopening high school sports “as quickly and as safely as possible.”
Could Friday San Diego Court Case Make A Difference?
Parents of students involved in the #LetThemPlayCA group have gone to court in a different approach to have California’s ban on high school sports removed.
There was a hearing scheduled for Wednesday of this week, but it will be held Friday afternoon before Judge Earl H. Maas III in San Diego Superior Court, North County Division. The lawsuit is appropriate, its supporters say, because there is a lack of medical evidence why college and pro sports can happen but not high school.
“We are hopeful that the court will determine that Gov. Newsom’s ban on youth sports is unconstitutional,” said Brad Hensley, founder of the Let Them Play CA group. “We hope the lawsuit demonstrates to the court the state’s ban in arbitrary, irrational, and bears no relation to reducing the spread of, or remediating the risks posed by, COVID-19.”
We believe a favorable ruling by the judge would only apply to San Diego County. In similar cases, the state has won at the appellate level of state court after losing in a lower level. Therefore, we’d hate to see kids in San Diego County get fired up initially about being able to play, only to have that chance later taken back again by a higher court. The state also could respond in court on Friday that there may be new rules in place coming in a few days so that a court order would become moot.
CIF Changes Cohorts Rule Again
An earlier mandate from the CIF that no one could complete on two different teams at the same time was reversed last week except for the sport of football.
The CIF had interpreted the cohorting section of CDPH guidelines from last December 14 as a requirement that mixing teams was not possible. Instead, the CIF confirmed from the CDPH that that guideline was a recommendation and not a requirement.
“Therefore, effective immediately, the CIF is reinstating its waiver of Bylaws 600-605,” the release said. “The only exception is the sport of football. In consultation with the CIF Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and given the California law (California Education Code 35179.5) regarding full-contact practice limitations and other safety regulations resulting from Assembly Bill 2127 (Cooley), Assembly Bill 1 (Cooper), and CIF Bylaws, students will not be allowed to participate on a high school football team and a club football team at the same time. No student is in violation of this Bylaw until they participate in a high school football game and subsequently participate in a club football game.”
Students now, however, will be able to participate on a club team and high school team at the same time according to the waiver, which covers the current school year only. They also will technically be able to play two different sports at the same time, although it looks to us like a lot of kids are choosing just one due to the uncertainty surrounding all sports for the next few months.
Finally, as reports of there being another club football game played in the state (from last Friday at Capital Christian of Sacramento), we’ll remind everyone that club games don’t count on any school’s all-time win-loss record or for a coach’s win-loss record. As keepers of the state record book, what happens in those games just doesn’t count. Officially, they are exhibitions. After two club games involving four smaller private schools in the CIF Southern Section were played in January, the schools essentially called them off for the future in return for the CIF not pursuing any sanctions that it could impose on the schools.