The news high school sports teams and fans had been waiting for became reality on Monday, though nobody was really surprised, except for start dates that might begin as early as December.
The CIF State, which governs high school athletics in California, made the decision most anticipated, canceling high school sports until late December or early January due to the COVID-19 pandemic with the hopes of starting months later if the pandemic is controlled enough to allow for it, the state office announced through a press release from commissioner Ron Nocetti.
But there was a huge surprise. Instead of conducting three shortened seasons of winter, fall and spring sports that would start later in the year and reduce the length for each season of sports, the CIF and Southern Section released a calendar for two sports seasons, which is similar to what the California Community Colleges announced a few weeks ago.
“I want to thank and am so appreciative of our 10 section commissioners and the leadership they’ve shown in putting together a sports calendar and putting it into action, and I thought they did a great job serving the most athletes, teams and our sections, which was tough to do,” Nocetti said during a phone call Monday. “The goal obviously was to provide as much opportunity to have full sports seasons for all our sports and knowing that, we felt this was the best way to go, coming up with the two-season model that also allows for full section playoffs and at least state regional playoffs for most sports.”
The fall sports will include: football, boys and girls water polo, volleyball and cross country as well as field hockey, competitive cheer and gymnastics.
The springs sports will include: baseball, softball, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, lacrosse, swimming and diving, track and field, wrestling, tennis, golf and competitive sports cheer.
The two-season calendar helps preserve longer sports seasons, section playoffs and state regional playoffs, which were three things CIF and coaches and athletic directors were hoping to accomplish. Dual sports athletes may have a tougher time, as will small private schools who use athletes for multiple sports.
But Nocetti knew any plan they came up with wasn’t going to solve every scenario.
“That’s right,” Nocetti said. “But I do think the two sports-season model gives the athlete better options than the three-season model had we gone with that, which would have been more overalp.”
The two-season model was a decision made in collaboration with all 10 section offices, including the CIF-SS office.
“Over the last several months, and through the ever-changing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been working on various scenarios to deliver fall, winter and spring sports during the 2020-21 school year,” CIF-SS Rob Wigod released through a statement. “In examining the most effective way to deliver fall, winter and spring sports, the decision was made to condense the three seasons of sport into two seasons of sport, primarily to help with the spacing between particular sports and the overlap of certain sports between seasons.”
It was really a home run decision, allowing the CIF-SS to have full playoffs and championships.
“Which means the same number of champions in each sport, the same number of divisions in each sport and the same number of guaranteed entries from leagues advancing to the playoffs in each sport as previous years,” Wigod wrote.
Maybe more shocking is that because the new schedule doesn’t coincide with the traditional season of club sports for soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball and others, CIF will not make athletes choose teams.
In an unprecedented move, athletes will be able to compete simultaneously with club teams during the high school season of their sport, a move the CIF-SS also endorsed.
“Due to the need to move sports to non-traditional times of the year, the CIF is temporarily suspending Bylaws 600, 601, 602, 603, 604, and 605 for all sports for the 2020-21 school year,” the CIF statement read. “Accordingly, students will be allowed to participate on an outside team at the same time they participate on their high school team. As per CIF Article 23, local schools, school districts, leagues, and Sections may develop a more restrictive rule than the CIF State Office with respect to the aforementioned Bylaws.”
The CIF Southern Section released its calendar soon after the state announced its playoff dates, with sports starting as early as December and high school football beginning in January.
Here is what fall sports will look like:
The CIF-SS will allow football teams to begin practice on Dec. 14 and play their Week 1 games on Jan. 8. The sit-out period will end on Feb. 8. The schedule allows for 10 regular-season contests ending March 12, with CIF-SS playoffs running from March 19 through the CIF-SS finals on April 9-10. The CIF state championship bowl games will be April 16-17, with no state championships.
Boys and girls volleyball would begin games on Dec. 19 and boys and girls water polo on Dec. 21. The CIF-SS water polo championships would be on March 6, with regional finals on March 19-20.
For volleyball and water polo, section championships would be on March 13 with state regional championships through March 20.
The cross country season would begin on Dec. 16 with CIF-SS finals concluding on March 20, with state competition concluding on March 27.
The springs sports pushes basketball back to March, playing alongside baseball for the first time.
Boys and girls basketball would begin with its first contests on March 12 and the CIF-SS finals would be completed on June 11-12 with state regional finals ending June 18-19.
For basketball, there will not be state championships.
“We will have state championships for sports that normally go straight to state finals like cross country, wrestling, swimming and diving and some of those sports,” Nocetti said. “But for boys and girls basketball, right now we just scheduled regional championships. In all team sports we wanted to conclude the state playoffs in a week, and most of our team sports are just regional playoffs and accomplish that and basketball will be the same way.”
Boys and girls soccer would begin on April 3 with the CIF-SS finals concluding on May 28-29 with the state regional finals on June 5.
Boys and girls swimming and tennis would hold its CIF-SS finals on May 29 with state championships concluded by June 5.
Baseball and softball would begin on March 19 with CIF-SS finals on June 18-19 and state regional finals for the first time in each sport on June 26.
The CIF-SS track and field sectional finals would be completed by June 19, with state championships on June 26.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the spring sports season for all sports in March, ending the season for baseball and softball teams after only a handful of games and before track and field had a chance to compete in marquee events. The pandemic also forced the cancellation of the boys and girls basketball state championships in Sacramento.
It was a brutal end to the high school careers for many seniors, who also missed out on proms and grad nights.
There was hope that several months of stay-at-home orders and strict restrictions would help control the pandemic and lower the curve enough that students could return to campus in the fall, and sports could resume as planned or with a short delay. But the situation appears no better now than it was in March.
Recent spikes in COVID-19 made it impossible to return as normal and on Friday California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that 32 counties on the state’s COVID-19 “watch list” had to start the school year with distance learning, and that directive applies to all public and private schools, which made it nearly impossible to sanction high school athletics before 2021.
Los Angeles County, Orange County and San Bernardino and Riverside counties were all impacted, and it will remain that way for a while. Schools must remain off the “watch list” for two weeks before being able to return to classes, and the road off the “watch list” is a challenging one.