Let me start by applauding the CIF State office as well as LA City Section Commissioner Vicky Lagos and Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod and their staffs. Working closely with the state office, both sections created calendars for the upcoming high school sports season that begin in December and end in June 2021.
They did an excellent job creating these calendars. The start and end dates allow teams to hopefully play nearly full athletic seasons, even though sports won’t be played until December.
It will be challenging for athletic directors to deal with the inevitable scheduling issues. Coaches who have responsibilities with two teams that are now playing in the same season will be stretched to their limits. Student athletes will have to make adjustments too, but the CIF delivered with these athletic calendars.
They’ve bought schools the most amount of time possible to prepare for high school sports in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. When stacked up against the decisions in Florida and Texas to delay the start of their fall sports seasons by just a few weeks, I think California comes out looking smart.
But it’s important to remember that the decision to return to high school sports won’t be made by the CIF. It will be made by local health and education officials across the state. And it’s very difficult to envision what that roadmap will look like.
Please allow me to explain.
Who ultimately decides if it’s safe for high school sports to come back?
“We have followed and we will continue to follow the guidance of the Governor’s office, the California Department of Education, and the California Department of Public Health,” CIF State Executive Director Ron Nocetti said in an interview Monday.
All along, these entities are who the CIF has worked with in developing their 2020-2021 high school sports calendars. These will be the same entities who will advise when it is safe to hold socially distanced workouts, normal practices and – eventually – games.
A lot needs to go right before California gets to that point.
Going from reopening schools to playing high school sports is a massive jump
While it is not a mandate, both Wigod and Lagos have stated the importance of students returning to schools in person before there are sports.
“As I’ve said, as we move closer to getting students back on campus first for academics and hopefully bringing the athletic teams next, those [COVID-19] testing protocols, procedures and reactions to positive tests are going to be up to schools and districts, that’s not a CIF issue,” Wigod said Monday.
“I would find [having full on distance learning and sports] very hard to do,” Lagos said in an interview in May.
On July 14 the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released their reopening protocols for K-12 schools. Part of the first paragraph reads: “In addition to the conditions imposed on schools by the State Public Health Officer and the California Department of Education, schools must also be in compliance with these employee and student safety and infection control protocols,” in order to reopen.
Some of these protocols include:
- Classroom furniture is arranged to permit a distance of at least 6 feet
between the teacher’s desk and the nearest student(s).
- Measures are in place to ensure physical distancing of students on school buses.
- Tape or other markings are used to help students maintain physical distancing as they line up to enter the school.
- School employees are deployed in hallways throughout the day as needed to assure physical distancing as students move between classrooms or from classrooms to other school locations.
- Gym class activities are selected to permit physical distancing.
- Sharing of equipment and supplies is avoided where possible. Should equipment need to be shared, it must be sanitized before and after each use by a different student and/or employee
In LA County, is it possible to go from social distancing at every turn to a tackle football game in the span of a few months?
We will find out.
From a high school sports perspective, what will come after schools reopen?
I asked Wigod what he thinks health officials will monitor when making a call on the status of high school sports in the future. He responded:
The word that has been used so much throughout is the word phases. And I think they have tried very hard in the health departments, not only at the state level, but in the counties and the local levels to try to identify certain phases which in turn, officials would okay new activities that would then be allowed to start as areas enter the new phases. I think we’re getting comfortable with what that means.
We had the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee also publish guidelines specific to the return of activities and training and so forth, and they used phases as well. So I believe that what I spoke to a moment ago, that the health authorities are looking at testing rates and positive testing rates, hospital capacities, ICU capacities, those kinds of factors that helped lead them to get an understanding of where we are in trying to control the pandemic, will allow them to make decisions, recommendations and guidelines for each phase of the return to play.
So that’s what we’re all watching, monitoring and looking at. And I hope that people follow the rules.
It’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic has to be much better managed in California before we can even think about a return to organized high school team sports.
As of July 25, California had 445,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,337 deaths. Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, did not mince words Friday when discussing the spread of the virus in California:
“I just want to make it clear to the American public — what we have right now are essentially three New York’s with these three major states [California, Florida, Texas],” Birx said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” Show. “And so, we’re really having to respond as an American people, and that’s why you hear us calling for masks and increased social distancing to really stop the spread of this epidemic.”
In Los Angeles County alone, there are 169,078 positive cases. That’s over 130,000 more cases than any other county in the state.
A few months from now, if Ventura County — currently with 6,553 cases — has better virus numbers than Los Angeles County, we could see a situation where health officials in Ventura County allow sporting events to be played, while LA County schools continue to be sidelined.
Wigod was asked about this potential scenario, as well as how many counties fully re-opening across the Southern Section would it take to start the 2020-2021 high school sports season in December.
“That’s a really good question that I don’t think I’m able to answer on July 20th,” said Wigod. “It’s going to be incumbent upon how many of our schools are back before we know if we can move forward and I don’t think we’re going to know that until we got closer to the time that this calendar is implemented.”
What’s more likely, a vaccine in December or dramatically better COVID-19 trends?
On the vaccine front, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Washington Post he’s confident a vaccine will eradicate the virus, but it most likely won’t come until spring 2021 at the earliest.
“I think as we get into 2021, several months in, that you would have [a] vaccine that would be widely available to people in the United States,” he said.
Without a vaccine in place by December, it’s clear that there will have to be dramatically improved trends to begin practicing and playing games in December and January in California.
New York City has seen dramatically improved trends since April, when at the time, it was the worst hit city in the country. The NYC Dept. of Education announced last week a hybrid learning model that will be used when students return to school this fall. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association voted to delay the start of fall sports from August to Sept. 21.
New York City hit its peak of cases in early April. Los Angeles County is there right now, assuming the situation doesn’t get worse (fingers crossed). New York is hoping to return to high school sports a little over five months following NYC’s coronavirus peak. Five months from now is late December, which is when California high school sports will hopefully return.
If you’re looking for a bright spot amongst all of this, there it is.
In the interim, what else can happen in terms of solutions?
Some schools could use mass testing in an effort to return to high school sports. On the In The Paint Show with Devin Ugland and Ronnie Flores, Harvard-Westlake boys basketball coach David Rebibo mentioned how his school plans to test all students and employees before coming back to the classroom.
Could LA County approve football or basketball practices if the school tested all of its athletes beforehand and they were negative? It’s possible. Will that method work for other schools/districts who don’t have the same financial resources as Harvard-Westlake? I doubt it.
In some parts of the country, parents are signing COVID-19 liability waivers to allow their students to participate in high school athletics.
“You can find high schools in Florida, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, South Carolina and Texas that require a signed waiver from a parent before an athlete can participate in summer workouts,” according to an article from Yahoo Sports.
The CIF won’t release a COVID-19 waiver, but schools and districts in California could decide to, according to Executive Director Ron Nocetti.
“The waivers and those things are really school district issues, not necessarily CIF,” he said. “So I’m sure they’re having those conversations at at their local sites for when we return to play. But we’re going to do everything we can to to make sure that our schools have all the best information moving forward so that when we can go back to the fields, the courts, and the pools we’re doing so in a healthy and safe way.”
Waivers could be helpful down the line, but this much is clear, right now in LA County, team sports are unable to be played without physical distancing. Until that’s lifted, signed waivers won’t lead to a high school football practice.
I miss Friday night football, basketball Saturday’s in the gym and covering volleyball, baseball and track & field in between.
We have the dates for a return. Now we need to get this virus under control. It is time for everyone to do their part.