Governor Gavin Newsom announced at a press conference held at a vaccine clinic in Hayward on Friday that high school and youth sports (led by football) could return in the coming weeks with a March-April season. The California Department of Public Health also issued new guidelines to make that possible, including a lower case rate per 100,000 for each county. It’s been a long time coming, it wasn’t good news for everyone (indoor sports) and more details are sure to be uncovered, but here’s a series of questions that we think many people may have.
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Can football start up again at every school in the state?
No, it can only begin at a school when its county reaches a case rate of 14 per 100,000 people. Those numbers are released every Tuesday by the California Department of Public Health. At his press conference on Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said 19 counties out of the 58 were at that level as of now. Many more are expected to get there by next Tuesday, Feb. 23.
When does the football season start?
Schools in counties that are at 14 per 100,000 can begin to practice as soon as Friday, Feb. 26. They can do conditioning beforehand, however. That’s not an immediate return, but many of the state’s prominent programs sent out similar tweets: “We’re Back.”
Does each county health department and each school district have to go along with the state?
No, they don’t. It’s going to be hard to see if too many county health departments are going to go against the new state guidelines with more strict guidelines because the blowback from the public, parents and advocacy groups will be strong. Specific districts in hard-hit counties by the virus, however, probably will not play. El Monte Unified in L.A. County, for example, already has cancelled all sports for the current school year and its schools already are focusing on the 2021-22 school year for scheduling.
How can football happen when it is considered orange-tier for reopening and many counties will not be in the orange?
This is where the testing element comes into play. All players and coaches will need to be tested once per week (negative results of course) in order for their teams to be able to play. The state will be paying for the costs of those tests to help schools from poorer districts to be able to afford it.
Is it safe for these outdoor sports, including football, to be played at these schools at all?
If the state and its counties were still under stay-at-home orders (which were as recently as two weeks ago), then none of this would be happening. Hospitalizations and rates of infection of the virus, though, are declining. There was a 39 percent reduction in hospitalizations in the state from February 16 of this month compared to January 16. There also hasn’t been any kind of an uptick in cases in the nearly two weeks now since the Super Bowl was played, an event that public health officials were worried out from people gathering at parties. Coaches and schools will follow all safety protocols.
What happens if a school starts playing in a county at 14 cases per 100,000 and then that county’s rate goes up?
It doesn’t matter. All reporting on Friday indicated that once a season begins it can continue even if the rate were to go back up to 15, 16 or higher. If it were a major outbreak, of course, that would be different.
Does a school have to be back to full in-person learning instead of hybrid or online for it to resume sports?
It appears as if the Los Angeles Unified School District will require that to be the case, but most places will not. The state’s focus on vaccinating teachers and other school support staff, on the other hand, should ease the fears of many teachers about returning to the classroom. As more are vaccinated, more schools should be getting back to reopening with students in person. A total of 35 counties as of Friday were prioritizing teacher vaccinations. Teachers in our home county (San Joaquin) began getting shots this week.
Do these new guidelines impact other sports?
Water polo is another season one sport in the state that will be going by the same rules because both water polo and football still are considered orange-tier in the state’s reopening blueprint. Sports that are in the purple tier already were underway, such as cross country. Friday’s big news essentially has no impact on them. Other spring sports (or season two) still don’t start for three weeks. Baseball and softball are still in the red-tier so when those sports are scheduled to start it is expected that many counties in the state will be in the red by then. Therefore, baseball and softball wouldn’t require the testing like football and water polo. Baseball and softball would only require the testing element from a county that wasn’t yet in the red.
What about basketball and other spring sports?
Those sports that usually are indoors and in the winter months that were previously moved to the spring or season two saw no new updates on Friday. As of now, boys and girls hoops are still shown in the yellow tier unless they are played outside. The governor and other leaders all stressed that this is an issue that will continue to be worked on. Clearly, unless there are changes and basketball continues to stay in the yellow tier, it’s going to be almost impossible for any counties and schools to be able to play any games this spring. The outdoor option just doesn’t seem likely, either. Is it too late for prominent basketball coaches in the state to get involved similar to what we’ve seen in football? Maybe, maybe not. But the sport does seem to need similar advocates.
How long will the spring football season last?
This currently varies according to each CIF section. At a press conference on Friday afternoon, CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod said that an April 17 ending date that the section had been using would be continued. Not long afterward, CIF Central Coast Section commissioner Dave Grissom said its section would allow schools to play games as late as the April 30-May 1 weekend. The CIF L.A. City Section and CIF Northern Section already had announced the later time span. There were no updates Friday from the San Diego, Sac-Joaquin, Central and North Coast Sections. The extra two weeks have been supported by those in the Golden State Football Coaches Community.
Which schools can our teams play?
Just as important as each county’s case rates are toward teams getting back to play is looking at each county’s borders. According to Friday’s update from the CDPH, schools can only play each other from the same county or from counties that share a common border. Any out-of-state games or contests also are still not allowed. The common border rule can be tricky because there are some goofy ones such as San Joaquin County and Santa Clara County actually touching in one corner, meaning that technically a school in Lodi could conceivably play one from Palo Alto. The CIF itself still advises schools with any travel-related questions to contact their local county health departments for approval. For sure, however, a school in L.A. County couldn’t play a school from San Bernardino County because those counties don’t touch. And if you’re from a rural school in Northern California in a county with very few schools, finding an opponent also could be very difficult. The CDPH also still has a 120-mile travel advisory for all Californians. For high school sports, that advisory applies as a guideline.
Will there be any playoffs?
With all of those travel advisories and guidelines still in place, it’s doesn’t seem possible that any section or state events will be able to take place for the current school year. Several sections have already cancelled playoffs for the duration of the school year (Sac-Joaquin, Central Coast, North Coast) but others are waiting. We’d like to see schools get creative in football with a six-game or five-game schedule and perhaps look for intriguing opponents in a bordering county or to have a bowl game.
Can fans go to any of these games if they take place in my county?
The only people that schools will be able to accommodate as spectators are same household family members and one would assume those members would have to be spaced out. The good news is that parents will be able to see their kids play, especially the senior parents. The aunts, uncles and grandparents not so much (unless they have been living in the same house). Each school also can decide if it wants to allow any others, such as those from the media, to be able to go to its games.
What’s going to happen for the Let Them Play CA movement?
The group co-founded by Brad Hensley of San Diego County isn’t going away at all. It will now switch to putting pressure on any entities resisting the state guidelines and it will work on helping the indoor winter sports get more favorable guidelines in place. Girls volleyball appears to be a big focus since its clock is ticking much like football’s has been.
What happened to that lawsuit brought by parents in San Diego?
It’s still on. In fact, at 2 p.m. on Friday in a Superior Court in that county, Judge Earl Maas III heard arguments from attorneys representing the state and the parents. He said afterward that a decision could be issued on Wednesday of next week, but then later Friday evening granted the temporary restraining order. This only applies to San Diego County and the state usually appeals these types of local orders and tends to win. The parents’ case isn’t part of the Let Them Play CA group, but is similar in that it is using much of the same data. Their case seems to center on why the state allowed professional and college sports but not high school sports.
Where does the focus of this issue switch to now?
It’ll be much more local. California is a state with 10 different CIF sections. Each of those sections will have to chart their own path. The state guidelines just provides a clearance for more games and many more schools to be able to play.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports
The big item no one mentions is previous indoor sports like volleyball that were orange tier got moved to yellow.