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CIF-Southern Section considering all options for 2020-2021 athletic season

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter • June 2, 2020

This past spring season had lasted roughly one month before COVID-19 put a screeching halt to everything, denying high school athletes an opportunity to claim a CIF-Southern Section divisional championship. Now, the focus for the 567 high schools of the CIF-SS turns to the fall season and beyond.

The past two months have been nothing short of a vacation from school for everyone involved, including CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod. He and his staff have been working hard to come up with several solutions for not just the upcoming fall season, but the rest of the 2020-2021 school year. Of course, there will be more questions than answers. But one thing is certain: everyone wants to have a high school athletic season.

“It’s been a tremendous challenge, obviously,” Wigod said. “Having to cancel spring sports was certainly the most difficult thing we’ve ever had to do. What we’ve been doing is staying in touch with our membership. We’ve attended many league meetings over the last couple of months. A lot of area groups have gotten together to keep messages and the communication channels open. We are continually working on different scenarios for how to put fall sports back and our goal is really focused on how to have fall, winter and spring sports happen with the 2020-2021 school year.”

Wigod said the CIF-SS has several different ideas that they can move forward with, the big issue being is the starting date in which the first games can begin. He has been saying all along that if you can give him a date, he’ll give you a calendar, and the CIF-SS will be prepared for that.

The CIF-SS had council meetings the week of May 18, but before that, Wigod and his assistant commissioners had reached out to the membership and offered the different leagues to be part of any teleconference league meetings leading up to the council meetings.

Right now, the established calendar for fall sports is still in place the earliest start date for practice being August 3 if a football team is planning to play a Week 0 game. The first football games are slated for August 21. However, because things can change at any moment, Wigod said the CIF-SS is ready and able to move the calendar back if needed, and still have fall sports conducted in a normal window that is being used to finish up before winter vacation.

“If we aren’t able to [start on time], then I don’t want people to believe that the next step would be to just cancel fall sports and begin to work on the starting up of winter,” Wigod said. “The philosophy is, and the plan is, that we can make fall, winter and spring sports happen in the 2020-2021 school year. That’s the thought process.”

The main message that Wigod wants to get out is everything is on the table and all options are open to deliver fall, winter, and spring sports and emphasized that’s what the schools want, that’s what the communities want and what everybody wants. However, the CIF-SS hasn’t gone deep into scenarios like having some of the spring sports like baseball, softball, swimming, etc. moved into the fall season.

“I guess there are no bad suggestions and there are no specific options that have already been dismissed,” Wigod said. “Although, specific options are still being explored and all options that are reasonable are on the table.”

Wigod believes that time is on their side because the beginning of August is still two months away and said they need to be cognizant of that and allow time to work and continue to monitor everything so that they have the best information of the current situation that they have.

The health professionals of the state and local authorities, school districts and schools will have decisions to make as far as what can be allowed personnel-wise once the games begin. But Wigod did say that he wouldn’t think the schools would be receptive to the idea of a football team or a volleyball team being limited to the number of players they can have.

Then there’s the issue of which school districts will allow their schools to come back and which will not. Taking the 605 League for example, and for football purposes, there are four teams with two being in the ABC Unified School District. If it doesn’t allow their schools to come back, then you can’t have a two-team league for football because the minimum the CIF-SS allows for any sport is a four-team league.

“That’s the major challenge that we will have at some point,” Wigod said. “We will be monitoring when the teams come back and at some point, we would have a number of teams that we would then launch a calendar to conduct regular season championship competition. It’s not going to be an all clear horn that’s blown, and all 100 percent of the teams come back. It’s not going to be that way.”

Using football as an example, since it is the main sport of the fall season, Wigod said there would have to have to be a significant number, which he would not disclose, of teams back to where they could launch the calendar. But the most important part of the calendar, he continued, is that there has to be a viable league play because you can’t have the CIF-SS Ford Division Championships without the appropriate number of league entries. He added that to be fair to the student athletes and everyone, they would want to have a season that included more than league play.

On top of that, there is the practice time involved before such a football season would start. At least four weeks is necessary for teams to begin practicing prior to the first games. Wigod was using one model, which would be if teams played just the bare minimum of having only a league season, which would be anywhere from three games to seven games. Obviously, in a league, such as the 605 League where you have three league games for football, you would want to find at least four more non-league contests.

So, even if everyone was not able to play a complete 10-game schedule, but taking into account the four weeks of playoffs culminating with the section championships (there would not be any state playoff games), Wigod targeted September 14 as last date in which teams can begin practicing in order to have a football season in the fall.

“There’s a window,” he said. “And then in the other sports, obviously, you don’t need four weeks for volleyball championships. You don’t need four weeks for girls tennis championships. You only need probably a couple of weeks in those scenarios. You don’t need five weeks to play league play in girls volleyball when you have a six-team league.

“If you use football as the largest window, and you realize that some of the other sports…boys water polo, boys and girls cross country, girls volleyball, girls golf and girls tennis…when you realize those other sports can probably be smaller windows than that, it gives you an understanding of what a fall could look like if it was pushed back as far back as it could be pushed,” he continued. “Now, the other sports can be practicing on October 1 or October 10 or some other day, not as early as football.”

Since it will be up to the individual school districts to decide when to allow their football student athletes to get back on campus, if only 10 percent of the programs are back and ready to go by Sept. 14, the CIF-SS will not be launching a calendar. But Wigod wanted to stress that if that was the case, it doesn’t mean cancelling the fall season.

“That’s not going to be the approach,” he said. “The approach is going to be, ‘okay, we couldn’t make fall happen in this window, let’s look at scenarios where fall, winter and spring can still happen before we get to the end of June 2021’. That would be the focus.”

Throughout the entire process of putting an athletic schedule/calendar together for the 2020-2021 school year, Wigod wanted to stress that schools want to have three seasons of sports and schools want championships in three seasons. He added that the schools realize it’s not going to be possible to have it the same as it was prior to COVID-19.

So, if that means conducting athletics in the spring after the last day of instruction, schools would make every effort to have their athletes finish out the season and giving them a chance at a championship, considering no one had that opportunity last month or this month.

“It’s going to have to be looked at a little differently,” Wigod said. “It’s not what people are used to, but I’d like to have the confidence in the fact that people…we’re all on the same page here. Everybody wants this. So, if we want this, we have to be willing to be a little more flexible and understand a couple of realities that will make it happen versus trying to implement some things that just would not make it possible to do what everybody wants.”

In closing, Wigod said the CIF-SS will continue to monitor the health and safety information coming out from all entities and will continue to stay in touch with the member schools and get a sense of what they’re thinking about and what they’re planning to do. He added that this is a call to leadership and the CIF-SS is ready to answer that call because they want to deliver what everyone wants.

“We miss high school sports; we love high school sports,” he continued. “Perhaps it gets taken for granted, that it’s always been there; that people have counted on it. And now that it’s gone, it’s my sincere hope that there’s a much higher appreciation for how special it is. I’ve never been bashful about saying how special I believe high school education-based athletics is; how important it is, how much learning and teaching it has done through the high school athletics experience in the classroom and outside the building.”

On June 9, there will be the normal scheduled meeting of all 10 CIF section commissioners, plus the CIF State Office and at that meeting, Wigod believes they will be ‘crystalizing’ many of the discussions about potential scenarios and start to come to an idea of when announcements need to be made about what the plans will be. Financial hardship and academic eligibility are other issues that will be brought up at this meeting.