The first of our preseason all-section, all-area or all-county teams will begin to be pushed out over the weekend plus we’re about one week from the preseason TOP 50 team rankings, but for now here’s a big picture outlook of where things stand prior to the 2021 California high school football season. This includes questions on COVID, air quality, Mater Dei-St. John Bosco dominance, competitive equity, CIF bowl games and Name, Image & Likeness (NLI). We also have done a preseason top 10 that has been input into our ticker at the top of our home page (which could be adjusted when the actual preseason Top 50 package is completed).
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1. Will the season start on time and what COVID protocols will be in place?
After last fall’s season was pushed back to January and then pushed back again to a short spring season due to health guidelines from the California Department of Public Health, returning to a more “normal” fall season has been expected by all of the coaches we know. In the last month, however, the Delta variant of the Coronavirus has become dominant. All metrics measuring the virus have gone back up — way up — and have hit members of the unvaccinated community very hard.
There have been reports already of several schools having to halt practices due to at least one player coming down with a positive case of the virus. Then on Thursday the first major cancellation of the 2021 season was made after two players from Centennial of Corona tested positive, which caused the Corona-Norco Unified School District to pull the Huskies’ from their first scheduled game on Aug. 20. They weren’t just playing anyone, either. It was supposed to be a matchup vs. defending State Team of the Year Mater Dei of Santa Ana. The Monarchs are now actively looking for an opponent to play on that date so they don’t miss out on a game as well.
Many in the high school sports community, including the CIF, are waiting for new guidelines to be issued by the CDPH. They could be similar to recent guidelines from the NCAA, and worst case scenario is it would be similar to Hawaii, which this week postponed the start of its football season and fall sports so that all involved could get vaccinated (which became a requirement in that state). Given the complexity and size of California, such a requirement doesn’t seem likely and especially since some place (like in the Bay Area) already have well over 70 percent of its population vaccinated.
COVID testing of all players will likely continue and teams will continue to get shut down due to positive tests and contact tracing.
2. Recent fall seasons in the state were impacted greatly by smoke from several huge wildfires. Is the CIF and its sections more prepared for when games have to get postponed in the future by poor air quality?
Upon waking up on Friday morning of this week, several places in the San Joaquin Valley were seeing significant amounts of smoke in the air that had dimmed the sunshine. There were no AQI (Air Quality Index) readings close to 150 (none even above 100), however, which is the recommended number that the CIF uses when schools should consider cancelling or postponing athletic contests.
The CIF and its sections have their own health recommendations in place regarding smoke and AQI. Here is the link to those recommendations on the CIF state website:
Last fall, when there were no Fridays in the state in which games were played anywhere due to COVID, we recall that there were two of them in which burning wildfires and resulting smoke would have likely caused some cancellations. It’s such a tricky situation because the AQI can be different for schools that are only a few miles apart. But it also seems to be a problem that is only going to get worse in the future since there’s little doubt climate change is well underway all across the planet.
3. Will this year be the one that the Mater Dei/St. John Bosco era of dominance in the state comes to an end?
It sure doesn’t look like it. Looking back, the Trinity League private schools began to start collecting massive piles of talented players/transfers beginning in 2016 to pair up with the great coaching they already had. There were no CIF state championships last spring, but Mater Dei’s win over the Braves had to give it the State Team of the Year honor to go with its CIF Open Division championships from 2017 and 2018. Bosco won the title in 2016 and topped De La Salle of Concord in 2019 in the last year before the pandemic struck.
League rival Servite lost by 21-14 to Mater Dei and 38-28 to Bosco last year and does seem to be competitive with the big two with QB Noah Fifita and WR Tetairoa McMillan although MD and Bosco have immense depth in those positions as well. For either Servite or a NorCal team like De La Salle in the Open Division final to have a chance those teams probably have to score on defense or hope for something similar to go its way. Servite gave up a pick six to MD last year and DLS gave up a 96-yard fumble return to Bosco in 2019.
There could be some hope for the 2022 season only because Mater Dei doesn’t have similar numbers of players near the top of Class of 2023 national and state player rankings lists. Bosco surely won’t drop at all with its Class of 2023. Mater Dei, however, did have freshmen who started and starred in the 2021 spring season, including QB Elijah Brown.
One aspect of the MD-Bosco era of dominance that’s easy is preseason rankings. Why do it different than just ranking the team that won in the last meeting between them, especially when they’re likely going to continue to play twice every year (once in the regular season and once in the CIF Southern Section Division I championship) for the foreseeable future?
4. What will be the impacts of the CIF Southern Section moving to more of a 100 percent competitive equity model for its football playoffs?
Some CIF sections and its schools may continue to resist, but the CIFSS and the Central Section are going to this system for this season. Most schools will like it and it will create a lot of opportunities for many teams that normally in the past would be one-and-done with a rout loss to a top seed.
The basic model is that all teams get seeded at the end of the regular season based on computer rankings or a process that involves computer rankings. As has been shown with competitive equity playoffs so far, it creates tremendous competition in the top brackets among top teams and it cuts down on the number of early-round routs.
The tradeoff is that it becomes much harder for a small school to win championships (having to move up into higher division) and it’s possible for frankly mediocre large school teams to basically competitive equity their way to a championship (example: 8-6 Milpitas in D6-AA in 2019). The other quirk in the system that should be fixed is for section officials to have a way to avoid the scenario in which Team A has just beaten Team B to win a league title and then two days later it’s Team A as a No. 8 seed in a very hard bracket while Team B gets a No. 1 seed in an easier one.
5. Will the CIF state football bowl games return to normal and how will new formats in some sections impact the lineup?
No changes are expected for the CIF’s own format in which it will place each section champion into divisions (north and south) based on competitive equity, beginning from the Open Division down to perhaps D7-AA or D7-A. Every section champ can play, although some may opt out. In 2019, CIF Northern Section D5 winner Fall River (McArthur) opted out for the second season while so did 14-0 Crescenta Valley of La Crescenta, which won the CIFSS D6 championship.
Which teams getting onto the board in both north and south, however, will be changed by new section playoff formats.
From 2019, for example, it’s easy to see that both D1-A state champion Corona del Mar (Newport Beach) and D1-AA runner-up Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) would have been in the top eight of the CIFSS going by competitive equity and therefore probably would have lost in the CIFSS D1 playoffs (same division as MD-Bosco). Instead, it’s always going to be the 9th best team from the CIFSS going onto the CIF state bowl board by winning its D2 title instead of a stronger team. Can the 9th best CIFSS team compete with teams that win the San Diego Section Open Division (likely matchup since MD-Bosco second game winner is likely to continue to be in the Open Division state final)? Yes, but for most years the San Diego Open champion is going to be much better. If the MD-Bosco slaughters continue other than when they play each other, look for the CIFSS to adopt a four-team bracket at the top of its playoffs so then it would be its fifth-best team moving on to a regional bowl game instead of the ninth.
The CIF North Coast Section also will adopt a new change this season to its playoffs so that the second-best team in the section behind powerhouse De La Salle will be the D1 champion instead of an Open Division runner-up. Since DLS has won every top title in the NCS since 1992, the runner-up has only been able to go to a regional bowl game twice and in 2017 that was when Liberty of Brentwood won the CIF D1-A state title. The CIF then passed a rule banning runner-up teams from Open Divisions going to a bowl game. The NCS has since come up with a format in which the loser of the Open Division final would then drop down to play an extra game and would have the opportunity to play for a D1 crown. Yes, DLS is going to likely have a postseason of bye, game week, game week, then three weeks off until the Open Division state final (unless the CIF were to conduct the Open Division final on its own for a separate weekend before the four other D1 and D2 finals). This also is going to create a tough competition among the NCS D1 winner, CCS Open Division winner, Sac-Joaquin Section D1 champion and even Central Section D1 champion for the top bowl seedings in D1-AA and D1-A in Northern California. To balance that out, look for the Central Section D1 champion to be sent to the south even if it’s a team from Fresno.
Fans in the Southern Section also will no doubt miss seeing their teams each week in various divisional rankings. Those can’t be done when no one knows which divisions teams will be in.
6. How will the new laws and Supreme Court decision surrounding Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) impact high school football?
While high school athletes are much different than college athletes, California is the only state in which it is legal for a high schooler to earn money off of his or her NIL. That means that there wouldn’t be a situation as to what just happened in Texas when that state’s No. 1 quarterback recruit, Quinn Ewers, announced he would be leaving high school early to become officially a student at Ohio State so he could start to earn money. We don’t know of anyone who is already making money from an NIL, but someone like recent Loyola of L.A. grad Ceyair Wright (an all-state football player who also starred alongside LeBron James in Space Jam 2 and who is pursuing both NFL and acting dreams at USC) no doubt would have been able to if the new NIL rules had been in play just a few months earlier.
Opportunities from NIL also could sway even more top-tier talented recruits to transfer to those high profile schools (you know which main two we’re talking about in football) that have the social media impact that would be beneficial to an athlete’s NIL potential. It doesn’t matter that the kid wouldn’t be able to pocket anything using a school’s likeness or uniforms. The kid’s name will just get blasted out to so many more people by all of the others on a school’s or team’s Twitter/Instagram feeds.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports