CIF sports will have to wait, again, for re-start to 2020-21 season

Photo by Phillip Brents

The dark specter of the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to haunt the world, and local high school sports is no exception.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a limited regional stay-at-home order during a press conference on Dec. 3 in the wake of record numbers of infections tallied statewide in recent days.

The new order, which built on a previously imposed nighttime curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for counties in the state’s most restrictive Purple Tier, those designated with a widespread infection rate, were to take effect 48 hours after intensive care unit hospital beds dropped below 15 percent capacity in any of five designated regions.

That number was reached this past weekend when capacity dropped to 12.5 percent in the Southern California (including San Diego County) and San Joaquin Valley regions. The Bay Area region also voluntarily decided to enact the order.

The stay-at-home order will be imposed for a minimum of three weeks.

“We are at a tipping point in our fight against the virus and we need to take decisive action now to prevent California’s hospital system from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” Newsom said at the press conference.

California experienced its biggest one-day jump in COVID-19 cases to date on Dec. 2 with 20,759 new cases. San Diego County reported its 10th consecutive day with more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases and its 22nd consecutive day with more than 600 new cases.

The state added 18,591 new cases on Dec. 3 to bring the total to 1.2 million.

More than 9,400 people were hospitalized in the state as of last Friday, including more than 2,000 patients in ICUs,

As of Dec. 3, 51 of the state’s 58 counties were in the most restrictive Purple Tier, including San Diego County, with six counties in the Red Tier, those designated with a substantial infection rate, and one in the Orange Tier, those designated with a moderate infection rate. No counties were in the Yellow Tier, those designated with a minimal infection rate.

The numbers are nightmarish close to home. East County has tabulated more than 12,700 cases, including more than 4,500 in El Cajon.

The infection rate in nearby South County, with Chula Vista alone registering more than 11,200 cases, is three times the county average.

More dire news could be coming soon.

Newsom said he expects a large increase in cases within the next one to two weeks due to Thanksgiving activities and gatherings. Such an increase could overwhelm hospitals by Christmas, thus the need for decisive action, Newsom said.

Understandably, this is not good news for the resumption of education-based athletic programs. Most areas of the state were scheduled to begin official in-season sports practices on Dec. 12, with some competitions to start later in the month.

That has now been put on hold, at least through Jan. 1, following a directive sent out by the California Interscholastic Federation State Office on Nov. 30.

According to the media release, the California Department of Public Health has postponed the issuance of its updated youth sports guidance due to the continued surge in COVID-19 infections.

“The CIF State Office does not expect the CDPH will issue any guidance allowing for schools to return to full practice and competition until after Jan. 1, 2021, at the earliest,” State CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti said. “All full practice and competition start dates are officially on hold until updated guidance is issued.”

In an effort to provide the 10 CIF sections, 1,605 member schools and more than 800,000 student-athletes the best opportunity to compete in Season 1 sports, once allowed by the CDPH and local county offices of public health, the CIF State Office is removing all regional and state championship events from the Season 1 sports calendar.

This move could conceivably free up an extra two to three weeks to extend regular season play as well as section playoff competition.

“By canceling regional and state championship events, more student-athletes will have the opportunity to participate in a longer season, rather than a truncated season with regional and state post-season play for a limited number of schools,” Nocetti said.

The first football games were scheduled Jan. 8 following nearly a month of practices. Now several weeks of practices will have to precede any on-field competitions, pushing the start of the 2021 football season well into January and possibly into February.

“The CIF is confident this decision is a necessary and reasonable action for our member schools, student-athletes, and school communities in light of the current statewide crisis,” Nocetti underscored in the state media release. “This revision to the CIF State 2020-21 Season 1 sports calendar offers our sections and leagues the flexibility and needed time to plan for the return to practice and competition once updated guidance is provided by the CDPH.”

Season 1 sports currently include badminton, cross country, field hockey, football, gymnastics, traditional competitive cheer, girls volleyball and water polo.

The state office has moved boys volleyball (traditionally a spring sport) from Season 1 to Season 2 to avoid the loss of a second full season. An updated Season 2 calendar will be posted in January.

San Diego Section Commissioner Joe Heinz issued a memo to principals and athletic directors on Dec. 1 following a meeting with all 10 section commissioners throughout the state.

“At the conclusion of the meeting the decision was made to postpone the start of all Season 1 sports, until the point in which updated guidance has been released by the State of California,” Heinz said in the memo. “The State CIF Office does not expect the California’s Public Health Department will issue any guidance allowing for schools to return to full practice and competition until after Jan. 1, 2021, at the earliest.

“Currently, athletic competitions are not permissible for any teams at the youth or high school level in California, based upon the guidance released from the state’s Department of Public Health on Aug. 3. Approximately one month ago, we were informed that the state was set to release updated guidance that would encompass all youth sports, from which we would be able to solidify, or adjust our current plans of returning to athletic competitions at the high school level.

“Without this updated guidance, we simply do not have the information required to officially open a season of sport for our section. In his press conference on Nov. 16, Gov. Gavin Newsom shared that this guidance would not be released due to the significant increase of COVID-19 pandemic cases across the state. At this point, all CIF sections across the state have made the extremely difficult decision to officially postpone the start date for our Season 1 sports, until the point in which we receive updated guidance from the State of California’s Public Health Department. Once we have this vital information, we will be able to re-evaluate our current plan, make any necessary adjustments, and potentially set a new date to open our Season1 sports for all our student athletes and coaches (who) make up the CIF-San Diego Section.”

Heinz told the principals and athletic directors addressed in the memo that he thoroughly understood “this is not the information you were hoping to receive from our offices and look forward to the date in which we are able to provide you with an updated plan and date for our Season 1 sports.”

The cancelation of the high school state playoffs mirrors a similar plan enacted by the California Community College Athletics Association to allow two separate seasons of sports to exist in a compressed time frame.

Heinz said the CIF State Office’s decision will benefit a compressed time frame for Season 1 sports.

“This move will provide all sections throughout the state additional time to adjust the length of the seasons for each sport,” Heinz wrote in the memo.

Heinz, who began his first year as section commissioner in July, said the section’s leadership will meet in the coming days to review these decisions and make any necessary adjustments to current plans for the year.

“Our sports calendar for Season 1 sports and Season 2 sports for the 2020-21 school year will remain in place at this time,” Heinz said. “Once the youth sports guidance is released from the California Department of Health, the CIF-San Diego Section will adjust the Season 1 sports calendar accordingly. We may not know what this will look like at this juncture, but as we have stated over the last six months, all options will be on the table for regular and post-season play.”