Santa Barbara High School, which came within one play of a CIF-Southern Section Division 8 football championship in 2019, had expected another shot at the title with a veteran team returning this season.
That expectation was officially quashed on Tuesday when the section commissioner announced that he was canceling playoff competition for all fall sports, known officially as “Season 1.”
“I’d be the first one to tell you that, ‘Hey! We want to play!’” Dons football coach J.T. Stone said. “We have a good football team coming back with two All-CIF guys, so we wanted to have that opportunity.
“It’s a tough thing. But with everything that’s going on, it’s tough all the way around.”
Fall sports were previously postponed to the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod said on Tuesday that he still hopes that a regular season can be conducted for “Season 1.”
“We are not canceling the entire seasons for our fall sports, we are canceling the portion of fall sports seasons that we have direct control over, Southern Section Championships,” he said. “Hopefully, the additional weeks now available during the fall sports season will be useful to our schools in the effort to have regular season and/or league competition in the time ahead.”
High school football is scheduled to end the week of April 17 (April 3 for eight-man football). The end dates are March 20 for water polo and girls’ volleyball competition, and March 27 for cross country.
The California Department of Public Health has placed sports leagues into the state’s four-colored, tiered system of COVID-19 transmission: purple (widespread), red (substantial), orange (moderate), and yellow (minimal). Santa Barbara County currently rates in the purple tier.
But even cross country, a sport that is allowed to compete in the purple tier, is sidelined until Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts the state’s stay-at-home orders.
Football, volleyball and water polo cannot play until Santa Barbara County enters the orange tier. Stone has doubts that football will be played at all considering how little preparation time the teams will now get.
“We’re following the protocol to the T — we’ve done everything the right way,” he said. “We haven’t touched a football or lifted a weight since our CIF championship game. But how can we have a season when we haven’t yet had a weight room or a football to get ready?
“These dates don’t mean anything unless the code colors for this COVID deal change and we’re able to get out there to practice.”
San Marcos athletic director Abe Jahadhmy said canceling the playoffs was the proper step.
“It gives the fall sports at least a chance to play some games,” he said. “To be honest, I am concerned about the fall sports. Our COVID numbers in our county are getting higher.
“It’s heartbreaking, but we remain optimistic.”
Pat Cooney, athletic director at Carpinteria High, said his water polo and volleyball teams have already missed several Citrus Coast League contests.
“Football is coming to the end of Week 3 without any real signs of opening,” he said. “The Citrus Coast League did move back its three league cross country meets to the latter part of February in order to keep the hopes of competition alive.”
The cancelation of football season could have an interesting side effect, Cooney pointed out.
“Under these crazy circumstances, we should have the biggest swim, track and field, cross country, tennis and golf teams that we have ever had,” he said. “Schools and athletic departments everywhere simply want to offer as many positive experiences as possible to as many student athletes as possible.”
Wigod said a decision about playoffs for spring sports would be made sometime in April.
The training for fall sports, meanwhile, have taken a pause at most local schools, San Marcos included.
“The multi-sport athletes have gone on to spring sports,” Jahadhmy said. “The understanding is that should we move to a tier that fall sports can take place, practices will resume.”
But fall sports teams are still plugging away at Bishop Diego with hopes of spring competition.
“Football, girls volleyball and aquatics have been holding workouts for a while, and our cross country practices just officially started last week,” athletic director Aaron Skinner said.
“CIF’s decision to cancel Season 1 sports playoffs is what we’d been anticipating for the past few weeks,” he added. “Given that this decision gives an additional three, four weeks on the back end, I remain hopeful that the Season 1 sports will be able to compete.”