There will be no high school athletics played in California for the remainder of 2020. The decision to suspend the start of the 2020 fall season, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, came from the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Monday morning.
Like the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) did earlier in July, the CIF made the decision to move fall sports to the beginning of 2021. Traditional fall sports – cross country, water polo, volleyball and football – will begin practicing Dec. 14 (football begins Dec. 7) and games are scheduled to begin in late December and early January. Winter and spring sports will also have a delay in start times, with practice for soccer, tennis, wrestling and basketball beginning Feb. 22. Swimming, softball and baseball will have practices start on March 8, while golf and track and field begin March 15.
According to CIF Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner of athletics Michael Garrison, having two seasons, instead of the usual three, will allow more games to be played.
“It has been determined that the most effective way to deliver fall, winter and spring for the 2020-21 school year is to condense the three seasons of sport into two seasons of sport,” Garrison said in a statement on the Sac-Joaquin Section website. “This allows for a longer season – attempting to get them as close to normal as possible, – eliminating any type of truncated season, and helps with the spacing between particular sports and the overlap of certain sports between seasons.”
Sac-Joaquin Section assistant commissioner Will DeBoard added, “We felt like January gave our athletic directors and our schools the best chance to put a schedule together that could be followed and can actually work … Ultimately, this is a really weird hand that we’ve all been dealt and we are trying to make do and make this as normal as we possibly can. But let’s be honest, it’s not going to be totally normal. We are just hopeful to be playing some sports.”
The decision to have two seasons instead of three was not welcomed by all. For many small schools, student-athletes play multiple sports. Having only two seasons, some multi-sport athletes may have to decide which sport they will participate in later in the year.
“I didn’t expect this; to be honest with you,” Calaveras athletic director and head softball coach Mike Koepp said. “I didn’t expect there to be only two seasons. I expected there to be a condensed three seasons. I think this really, really, really affects small schools and small school athletes. When I came into this, there were two premises that I thought they were working with: No. 1; to not impact the spring sports and the spring sport athletes again, like what happened to them last year. And No. 2; I thought the goal was to maintain three seasons of sport. And in my opinion, they did neither. I appreciate all the work they did together on this, but I think they did neither.”
DeBoard agrees that there will be some schools and athletes who will be affected by the decision to have two seasons instead of three, but with little time to work with, he feels the right decision was made.
“Right or wrong, the philosophy was to make our season as normal as possible, with the idea that, yeah, kids won’t easily be able to play three sports,” DeBoard said. “I think the CIF took a bad situation and made it as normal for most kids as possible. But again, small schools are going to be upset and multi-sport kids are going to be upset.”
Whether or not schools will actually hold athletic competition might fall on the decision of county health officials. Neither the CIF, nor the Sac-Joaquin Section gave any guidelines for health and safety requirements and left those decisions to the individual schools and county health officials. As far as fans attending games, DeBoard feels that if it’s deemed safe to have athletic competition, there should be no issues with having fans watch.
“If we are saying it is OK to play a sport like tackle football and not have to distance, my anticipation is there won’t be any fan restrictions,” DeBoard said. “If kids can do it, why can’t adults do it? I don’t foresee any issues there, but we may hit January and we are going to be told by either the state of California or county health officials that we can play sports, but we have to do ‘This, this and this,’ then we are going to do, ‘This, this and this.’ We want things to get back to normal for the kids.”
Some changes that have been implemented include there being no “dead period.” Should a school and county say it is safe to have scrimmages, just like the ones that would take place during a “summer league,” the section has no issues with it. And while there can be no tackle football, 7-on-7 is still permitted any time leading up to the start of the season.
It was also decided to shorten postseason play, instead of the regular season. For instance, football will remain with an 11-week regular season, but one week of the playoffs has been eliminated. Also, the football playoff brackets will be moved from 12 teams to eight. However, the current plan is to have 10 playoff divisions made up of eight teams, so that 80 teams will still reach the postseason.
One concern with the change of schedules was what would happen with travel or club sports. In regards to competing on an outside team, according to CIF bylaw 600, “A student on a high school team becomes ineligible if the student competes in a contest on an ‘outside’ team, in the same sports, during the student’s high school season of sport.” That bylaw, along with bylaws 600-605, have been temporarily suspended by the CIF.
“A lot of kids play club sports and we have no problem with that,” DeBoard said. “We normally don’t allow club sports to happen during the high school season, but they can do it the other nine months out of the year. Clubs have generally adjusted their schedules, so that they don’t conflict with the high school season. Well, that’s out the window this year, so we’ve decided to wave bylaw 600. So, a kid could play for their club and their high school team at the same time.”
While it is still unknown as to what the spread or fatality situation of COVID-19 could potentially look like in early 2021, the Sac-Joaquin Section will do all it can to make sure games can safely be played. And while some areas are more or less impacted than others, those playing in areas with fewer cases and deaths will, more than likely, get to play more games.
“If schools are able to play, then we are going,” DeBoard said. “We may have a situation where 60% of our schools are able to go in January and we would go. Now, if only 10% of our schools are able to play, that’s something that we’d have to look at down the road. That’s not a decision that’s necessarily going to be made by us. We are either going to have quite a few of our counties up and running, or they won’t. And if we know we won’t be up and running by January, then we are going to push things back.”
DeBoard knows there is no answer or solution that would make everyone happy. His hopes are that this is a one-year issue and that by the fall of 2021, the sporting world returns to what it once was. But for now, even the possibility of resuming athletic competition in the not-too-distant future is a piece of hope that is worth holding on to.
“We are going to do everything humanly possible to have sports this year,” DeBoard said. “The only way we are going to have absolutely zero sports is if things are so rough that we just can’t. As soon as there is any sort of window that opens up, especially in January, we are going to start doing stuff. Sports are an important part of everybody’s education. We feel the pressure, we want to have (sports) and we are going to do everything possible to have them.”