Waiting game goes on and on for California high school sports

Torrey Pines High School
Torrey Pines High School girls lacrosse played against Cathedral Catholic High School on March 3 this year.

Lack of direction from Sacramento leaves coaches, athletes in limbo


The backlash over the State CIF’s announcement Tuesday, Dec. 1, that Season 1 of high school sports is being pushed back until “at least” Jan. 1 has been loud and angry.

Kids want to play. Coaches want to coach. Students want to cheer.

The state’s high school governing body, however, is only following the guidelines passed down from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and the California Department of Public Health.

High school and youth sports leaders have been waiting for months for some kind of direction, some word to start the 2020-21 season.

That decision still hasn’t been passed down and 800,000 student-athletes across the state are left in limbo.

So with COVID-19 numbers climbing, State CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti announced Tuesday, Dec. 1, that the start of Season 1 — football, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls water polo, girls volleyball, badminton and gymnastics — has been pushed back.

Instead of starting practice Dec. 12 with play beginning Jan. 8, the situation is very much up in the air.

After talking to CIF officials, athletic directors and coaches, the best guess — and everything is somewhat of a guess right now — is there will be a Season 1. Those seasons will be shortened, however.

The idea is that practice would start Jan. 18 at the earliest, Feb. 1 at the latest. Games would start about 20 days after practice opens.

That, however, is dependent on rulings from the governor and the CDPH. The decision could very well depend on whether COVID-19 numbers surge after the holidays.

Instead of a 10-game regular season, football will be 6-8 games, mainly league or conference play. There will be no games with out-of-county teams.

Girls volleyball loses some of the state’s top showcase tournaments. Cross country loses some quality meets.

There is also a question of the desert schools, which are part of the San Diego CIF Section, but are not in the county. Will county health guidelines allow teams to travel to and from the desert?

There is talk of the small private schools trying to play before the state gives the all clear.

And some of the large private schools in the Southern Section contemplated the same thing.

One large problem with that idea: Most likely no fans will be allowed at games, meaning schools will lose between $25,000 on the low end to $50,000 on the high side in gate receipts, money that pays for game officials for all other sports.

The State CIF already announced there will be no Regional or State Championships, allowing for more regular season games for the state’s 10 sections.

San Diego Section Commissioner Joe Heinz said there is a good chance playoffs here will be reduced. Open Division football is already a four-team playoff and should remain in place.

All other divisions are 12 teams. Those will be cut to eight, maybe even four.

Heinz said the worst thing CIF could do is plow ahead, start the season, then have to stop play at some point, something we’ve seen in college football.

At least three states have had their high school seasons interrupted.

Alaska and West Virginia cut state playoffs. In Colorado, 218 schools started play, stopped, then started again. Another 58 schools opted to play in the spring.

Connecticut stopped play in November. Florida had some schools start on time, others started later. Maine postponed its season until May. Private schools in Maryland started playing in November. Public schools start Feb. 13. Michigan started play in September, but had to pause three weeks because of COVID-19. Minnesota pushed its season back to October, cut the season to six games, then shut it down in November. Vermont is playing only 7-on-7.

California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington are among the states that will start Season 1 after Jan. 1.

In California, some Season 2 sports — boys and girls basketball, boys and girls golf, boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, boys and girls swimming, boys and girls tennis, competitive cheer, track and boys volleyball (rescheduled from Season 1) — are currently slated to start practice as early as Feb. 8.

The bulk of those sports are scheduled to open practice March 13 with games starting March 19.

Reduced playoffs in Season 1 could allow for Season 2 to begin as scheduled.

Several athletic directors believe there is an emphasis to play a full Season 2 schedule because those sports had their seasons cut short last spring. Most sports played fewer than seven games. There were no major track or swimming events.

Ending Season 1 sports before the start of Season 2 is a major goal, allowing for athletes to play two sports.

There undoubtedly will be an emphasis on expanded health protocols, putting extreme pressure on athletic trainers and administrators.

For now, though, the wait continues for the governor and the CDPH to make a decision.

— John Maffei is a sports writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune