Prep coaches seek to firm up schedule in hopes of playing

QB Marshall Eucker
Ramona junior Cameron Dingman hopes to be playing at home in a three-way scrimmage against El Camino and Cathedral Catholic.
(Ken Grosse)

San Diego County coaches, administrators try to iron out a plan


Practicing on Thanksgiving Day has a special meaning for high school football teams. If you’re on the field while the turkey is in the oven, it means your team is deep into the playoffs.

No one will be practicing on Thanksgiving Day in this crazy, COVID-19 delayed season.

Coaches are hoping they’re back to practice in mid-December and playing in early January.

How to fit practices and scrimmages around Christmas and New Year’s as well as play 10 regular-season games and the playoffs was the hot topic of a recent Zoom call with the San Diego Section Football Advisory Committee.

“I don’t want to make decisions in isolation,” said San Diego Section Commissioner Joe Heinz. “We in the office are taking the time to talk with all sports. We want to come up with a plan that fits best for everyone.”

The football discussion centered around 10 games in 10 weeks or 10 games in 11 weeks, plus the playoffs.

The Grossmont Conference was leaning toward 11 weeks to play 10 games and dropping the state playoffs.

The North County Conference said the No. 1 goal was to play as many regular-season games as possible even if it means dropping the state playoffs.

The City Conference wanted to prioritize league and rivalry games.

The options, as discussed by the Advisory Committee include:

-10 games in 11 weeks, dropping Week 1 games.

-Canceling Week 1 games, playing 10 games in 10 weeks and dropping out of the state playoffs.

-Playing a nine-game schedule.

With games against out-of-town teams up in the air, coaches are scrambling to confirm games or fill dates.

San Diego Section teams have 25 games against out-of-county teams and nine against teams from out of state.

Cathedral Catholic is the most affected with three out-of-county games, including a trip to Concord De La Salle. St. Augustine, Steele Canyon, La Costa Canyon, Helix and Mission Hills all have two.

San Clemente has games against Oceanside, La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines and is especially eager to get the schedule finalized.

With the state playoffs cut from two weeks to one (there is no regional play), there was talk among coaches to cut the San Diego playoffs.

That would impact the CIF office, which generates a large portion of its budget from playoff revenues.

San Diego’s Open Division playoffs include just four teams. There was a discussion of sending only the section’s top two Open teams to the state playoffs.

Much of the conversation during the Zoom call centered on practicing on Christmas Eve and scrimmaging on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

The fall sports season, which usually begins in August, has been pushed back to Dec. 14 with the first game scheduled for Jan. 8.

Assuming practice can start on Dec. 14, there are 22 practice opportunities — not including Sundays, but including the holidays. Football players must have 10 practices before they are allowed to scrimmage and 14 before being allowed to play in a game.

The football meeting brought out several plans. No coach would practice on Christmas Day, but Christmas Eve — maybe in the morning — could be another story.

Some schools have final exams the week of Dec. 14-18, so practices may be limited.

With no school after Dec. 18, coaches are also concerned families may head out on vacation, pulling players out of practice.

That brought up talk of two-a-day practices, which went away with rotary-dial phones.

The problem with two-a-days is that they’re limited to two hours for each practice and can’t be run on consecutive days.

Teams are limited to 18 hours of practice a week.

“I don’t think anybody is going to have a problem with scrimmages,” said Damon Baldwin, athletic director and head football coach at Ramona as well as San Diego’s representative on the State Football Advisory Board.

“No one is going to practice on Christmas, maybe not even Christmas Eve. But New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are different.”

Ramona has already lined up a three-way scrimmage for New Year’s Eve, hosting Cathedral Catholic and El Camino.

California is one of six states or districts that have moved the fall season to December, joining Nevada, Washington, Virginia, Nevada and Washington, D.C.

Louisiana is discussing a move. Texas has delayed the started of the season at least five weeks. Florida, Georgia and Mississippi will delay the start of the season while states like Alabama, Oklahoma and Nebraska plan to start on time.

“Things are changing day to day,” Dr. Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) said on a Zoom call. “Across the country, everyone wants to get back, and we’re seeing a patchwork. We’re very motivated to get back playing as long as all safeguards are in place.”

“Research has shown students learn better when they’re engaged in activities, whether that’s sports or the arts.

“Students apply themselves better in the classroom so they can participate in extra-curricular activities.

“And we’ve found businesses look at job resumes, looking to see if applicants played a sport or played in the band.”

Niehoff said she is very concerned with finances, estimating lost revenue to state associations could range from $100,000 to $2 million.

“That would cause those associations to dip into their reserves to finance championships,” she said. “And this isn’t just a one calendar-year thing. That’s very concerning from a financial and well-being point.”

Heinz said he’ll look at all the recommendations from the different advisory boards.

With teams screaming to finalize schedules, he wants to have a master calendar by Aug. 14 ... or before.

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