On the heels of Tuesday’s announcement from the CIF Southern Section canceling Season 1 postseasons for the 2020-21 school year, SBLive reporter Connor Morrissette spoke with CIFSS Commissioner Rob Wigod about why the decision was made and what the status of high school sports will be in the region in the coming months.
Read the question-and-answer interview below.
SBLIVE: Rob, what do you think the likelihood is of sports potentially moving tiers? Right now football is in that orange tier of COVID-19 cases. Is there any chance it could get moved up to the red? I know the CIF Sports Medicine Advisory Committee came out with return to play guidelines which stated all sports could be played in red. Is there any chance the California Department of Public Health makes a change?
ROB WIGOD: Well, there could be and there are two factors, I think, that will be important in that effort. One, that we see reductions in case numbers per 100,000 and also positivity rates. And we actually did see that (Tuesday), for the first time in several weeks where a few of our seven counties actually saw some reductions. And with that comes the conversation that continues with the Governor’s office in California and the Department of Public Health, that with that information, with what’s happening out there, we can find a way to maybe revise some of those tier colors and give opportunities to certain sports that are, let’s say, in orange now that could be downgraded to red.
SBLIVE: Would you mind sharing what exactly the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommended?
ROB WIGOD: They recommended that all of our sports be in the red tier. And along with that was a 36 page document with specific health and safety protocols for each sport keying in on how you would do it and utilizing different protocols for location of team benches, how to use the volleyball’s that come in and out of the match, pre-game protocols, post-game ones too, a lot of different things involved with any kind of athletic contest. So that was all put together in a comprehensive plan submitted in October.
And obviously what we got back was not the response in terms of the tiers and certain sports that we wanted, but that’s why we’ve continued to work on trying to get those adjusted so that we can get as many of our sports back playing as soon as we possibly can. But again, in a healthy and safe way.
SBLIVE: What’s your confidence level that you can get those changed? It all depends on the virus trends. And of course, the health departments have the final say. How confident are you we can maybe see a football in the red or a basketball move up from a yellow to an orange as two examples?
ROB WIGOD: I’m not in the prediction business. And so it’s really hard for me to say if I’m confident or not. I would just only say that virus trends need to improve and we need to make progress with these numbers. We’re confident if given the green light, we can do this in a healthy and safe way. We have the necessary health and safety protocols needed to do what needs to be done and we’re ready to follow the rules. We don’t know if sports will change tiers, but we’re going to continue the effort in the hope that they can.”
SBLIVE: I was talking to the Serra San Mateo football coach, Patrick Walsh, and he said he would like the youth sports to be removed from the tier system. Has any part of the dialogue with the California Department of Public Health been around that, maybe separating youth sports from those tiers?
ROB WIGOD: Well it’s interesting perspective, because I think one of our efforts from the beginning when the tier system came out was it wasn’t specific enough to high school or youth sports. It would talk about hair salons and tattoo parlors and fitness centers, but we couldn’t get specifics about what does it mean for us. And so what was really behind the development of our plan from the CIF Sports Medicine Advisory Committee was to say if we’re going to use this colored tier model for each county in the state and it’s going to determine whether restaurants can open or serve inside or outside, could we get direct clarification on football and basketball and baseball and softball and water polo, et cetera, et cetera? We actually thought that by connecting to the color tiers, that would give everybody a very clear roadmap as to what we need to do, what benchmarks we need to meet so that we can actually get these sports back and get them resumed.
SBLIVE: In the best case scenario, we’ll see sports being played in the coming weeks. Are you nervous at all about all sports being played at once in March and April? I’ve had some coaches reach out to me and say they’re a little concerned about that, in the best case scenario situation.
ROB WIGOD: Well, we really started that conversation last July when we announced the calendar for sports, and at that time in July of 2020, the thought process was that all of our sports regular seasons and championships would get done in the 2020-21 school year. So that was the plan in the beginning of July. We have had that in place for many, many months. These issues provide challenges, tremendous challenges for facilities, for student athletes, and for coaches. But we’ve been prepared for that and hopefully we have all planned for that. And of course, the major question is, will it be able to be implemented?
If it is implemented, then I believe we’re going to accomplish it, because, as I said, our schools have had about as much time to prepare for it as possible. And that was done for a reason. We knew it was going to create a lot for them to do to make it happen. But I think their effort has been great in trying to get it done and accomplished. And so we could run into a situation where you say that there could be a problem, but it would be a good problem to have versus the alternative with nothing happening.
SBLIVE: The seniors, a lot of them are so concerned that if their season of sport does get canceled, then they will have no recourse. At this time, are there any talks about a potential waiver for another year? I know the answer’s probably no, but what would you say to those kids who are looking at potentially their senior seasons not happening? Is there any course of action to maybe have them come back for another year or is that answer still no?
ROB WIGOD: Well, the answer is no. It’s a statewide bylaw that is involved here. But I think the important thing to remember is that academic instruction continues and whether a student is online or is in a hybrid model, sometimes on campus and sometimes off or whatever the particular delivery of education is, that they still have the educational opportunities in front of them. There are still grades and credits to be earned towards high school graduation.
So the idea that we would just forego any academic progress that we can make in the effort to have another year of athletic eligibility is something that statewide, in the conversations with the state office and the fellow commissioners, we believe that education comes first and student athletes should continue to be educated in the best ways that we can educate them until they can return to a normal academic environment.
Also, having schools hold on to our current seniors and then also take on next year’s freshman class is unrealistic. Our schools aren’t prepared for that. They’re not prepared facility wise or staffing wise. The additional costs that they would have to incur for giving student athletes another year and then pair that with the arrival of a new freshman class and having five years of students on a campus designed for four, that would put a very, very difficult burden on our member schools.
There’s only one state in the entire country that has looked at this issue, and that’s the state of New Jersey in terms of passing any kind of a bylaw that that would allow for this. And actually, it was the New Jersey state legislature, it wasn’t the High School Sports Association, it was the state legislature in that state that did that. So at the current time in California and really in 49 other states, there hasn’t been the effort to give an additional year of eligibility to the current senior class that we have now.
SBLIVE: Is there a drop date for the high school football season? What I mean by that is that if practices can’t start by a certain date, will the season be canceled?
ROB WIGOD: Schools are required to have 14 days of practice, a minimum of 14 days of practice before they play their first game. So look at the different weeks leading up to April 17th, which is for now the last week. If football practice begins February 15th, that leads to a maximum, if we kept the April 17 end date, seven games. If it’s February 22nd, six games, March 1st, five games. So you can see how that progression would work. And now without any championships at the section or state level for the rest of the season leading up to April 17, that’s really up to schools how they treat those weeks if they can play. If they can have a five game season and that works for them, then they can do it. If it’s only three games, they can do that. Even if it comes down to one game, that could be an option at some point.
SBLIVE: Worst case scenario, all the time goes by. We’re into April. No football season occurs. Say a coach from a high school wants to try to get his kids some film in the month of May. Could a coach, coach his own players, but not under their team name in a club league for a couple of weeks in May in an effort to get them some film? I know it would maybe be dependent on health guidelines, but could you just speak to that if the season does get canceled, these coaches will feel so bad for their seniors, so maybe they want to try to to get them some looks really late in the game in May in a club league. Is that allowed? Does that violate any bylaws?
ROB WIGOD: Once the season is over, we do have a bylaw that relates to football team camps and so forth. The idea that you could take an entire football team and have them scrimmage or play in full contact outside of their high school season of sport, you can’t do that.
So if there was an effort made to try to put together a team of high school players and high school coaches to continue to play on beyond the end of the season, that would not be allowed under our bylaw.
We understand that club football is a new environment that we haven’t really experienced over the years. And without a high school season, club football has sprouted up and is out there. Once our high school season is over, then there are limitations on high school coaches and their players in terms of what they can do beyond that date.
SBLIVE: We now see club tackle football bursting onto the scene. Clearly its organizers are making the most out of the situation. What do you think the future looks like with club football and high school football coexisting? What are the thoughts from the Commissioner on this new landscape that we’re seeing with high school football?
ROB WIGOD: High school education based athletics is unique and it’s special and nobody else does it except us. High school football is Friday night lights, it’s the stadium, it’s the student body, it’s the cheer team, it’s the dance team, it’s the band.
Playing high school football with your teammates means you have worked months and months and months together to prepare for the season. What’s happening on a weekend on a farm land in Chino with none of that happening except individual students, maybe groups of students who are playing club football as a way for their ability to be seen by coaches for the future. That’s an individual thing.
That’s the thing about that student athlete. High school football and education based athletics is about the team. It’s about the group. It’s about the school. It’s about the community. And those are the things that we have that no one else does. And now that they’re not here, I believe people miss them and may have taken them for granted.