Section commissioners for the California Interscholastic Federation met on Tuesday to discuss rescheduling such sports as football and basketball for later next spring.
The meeting was called after the California Department of Public Health released updated guidelines on Monday which rule out high-contact sports until there’s a significant decrease of COVID-19 cases.
The CDPH delayed the start of all high school competition until Jan. 25, at the earliest, with plans to reevaluate the situation on Jan. 4. The coronavirus outbreak prompted the CIF State office to originally reschedule most fall sports to December, with football season delayed until the weekend of Jan. 8.
“Uncertainty is the biggest issue,” said San Marcos High’s Abe Jahadhmy, dean of Channel League athletic directors. “We all want to be in control of the situation. We also have to be flexible and compromising if we are really doing this in the best interest of the kids.”
Cal Hi Sports reported on Tuesday that the CIF commissioners were meeting to “consider starting over with a different sports calendar so that safer sports go first, more restrictive sports go later in spring.”
“I think the chances are a lot better that we are going to play football this year,” Jahadhmy said. “Given that CIF is willing to forgo playoffs and regionals, it gives us more time to have games. If we can get six or seven games, that would be great.
“There is also talk of still flipping the seasons … Lower-impact sports may start sooner. Gym sports are of concern because of indoor restrictions. I would not be surprised if football and basketball were moved to the spring.”
The CDPH split sports into the state’s four-colored, tiered system of COVID-19 transmission: purple (widespread), red for (substantial), orange (moderate), and yellow (minimal). Santa Barbara County is currently rated in the purple tier.
“It seems very doable for a lot of sports that are in the purple and red tiers,” Dos Pueblos athletic director Dan Feldhaus said. “Those non-contact sports could probably start their seasons on time.
“Outside of those, we’ll see how it goes. Maybe with the vaccine and people making good choices, our numbers will be reduced and it will take a turn for the better for our kids.”
Purple-tier sports include cross country, golf, swimming and diving, tennis, and track and field.
“Baseball and softball (along with girls lacrosse) would appear to be waiting on deck if the county sees improvement to the red tier,” Carpinteria AD Pat Cooney observed. “Soccer is an outdoor activity that will require significant improvement in the COVID-19 environment.”
Soccer — as well as football, boys lacrosse, water polo and volleyball — will be allowed when Santa Barbara County enters the orange tier.
“Not too long ago, Santa Barbara County had met three of the four metrics that would have qualified it for the orange tier,” Bishop Diego AD Aaron Skinner pointed out, “so I do not think it’s at all unrealistic that we get to the orange tier in time to have a meaningful football season.”
Basketball and wrestling will only be allowed if the county enters the yellow (minimal) tier of COVID transmission.
“Unfortunately, they’re the long shots at this point since they are both full-contact and indoors,” Cooney said.
The CDPH guideline stirring the most concern from local athletic directors stated that athletes and coaches should “refrain from participating with more than one team over the same season or time period.” The issue is most critical at smaller schools such as Bishop Diego and Carpinteria.
“There simply aren’t enough Warriors to go around and to cover 15 single sports in the spring,” Cooney said. “Students and families will need to study carefully and decide what their goals are.
“Do they want to train for their ‘A’ sport that is not likely to compete this year or do they want to select their ‘B’ sport because competition seems more likely? Difficult choices for sure.”
Skinner hopes the state will “reconsider” the guideline, or at least make it just a recommendation.
“We not only rely on multi-sport athletes to field our teams, but we have a large number of student-athletes who love competing in a variety of sports,” he said. “I’d hate for them to be forced to make a decision.”
The CDPH guidelines also prohibit out-of-state travel and allow competition between bordering counties only when they are both in qualifying tiers. All of the area’s high schools compete in leagues that include Ventura County schools.
“Given the fact that a number of our league and non-league opponents are not in our county, that is concerning that we may lose out on opportunities to play games simply because of that,” Skinner said. “I’m trying to get as many games for our athletes as possible, and the best way to do that is to schedule in-county games.”
The pandemic has created an administrative nightmare for athletic directors.
“Though the guidelines offer clarity and the opportunity to speculate, the COVID-19 environment has taught all of us to wait and remain flexible,” Cooney said. “Counties, districts and schools need to consider the guidelines methodically and decide what can be supported.
“Can facilities be opened? Can teams practice? Can teams compete across county lines? Will districts support expenses like the increased need for custodial support or, the elephant in the room, transportation?”
Jahadhmy has noticed the flexibility of coaches and athletes in how they’re handling the uncertainty.
“It has been a roller coaster of emotions for them,” he said. “We were going in the right direction as more and more restrictions were lifted. Then we went back to the purple tier and it was a gut-wrencher.
“However, everyone has been resilient and is making the best of the situation.”