Following CIF State’s announcement that high school sports in California will not return until Dec. 2020 at the earliest, Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod discussed the Section’s plan for the school year as well as the implications of the new athletic calendar with SBLive California reporter Connor Morrissette.
Below are the highlights and most pertinent information from the podcast:
(Editor’s note: Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.)
SBLive: Parents and student athletes are wondering what it will look like if athletes who usually play two sports in two different seasons now have to decide between two sports in one season due to the new calendar. What will that look like for that athlete this upcoming year?
Wigod: That will be a challenge. It’s interesting. A lot of people didn’t realize that there is no rule that prohibits a student from playing two sports in one season. In fact, when I was an athletic director at my school, we had cases of students who played basketball and soccer, three o’clock soccer game, seven o’clock basketball game. They somehow were able to manage that. We had baseball and track athletes too.
We had different communications with the coaches, and of course, the student athletes, making sure academics kept up. So we hope that there will still be some flexibility in that regard for the upcoming school year. There is a way to do it. It certainly isn’t easy. It’s the only year we hopefully would ever have to face some of these seasons being grouped together like this. But I’m hopeful that there will be enough willingness by the student athletes and their families, the coaches on our campuses, and athletic directors, to try to make that work as tough as it is to have the students make those choices.
But as I said yesterday, I think they would prefer at least the opportunity for a choice instead of what happened to them last spring when they didn’t have a choice and we had to, unfortunately, cancel our spring sports.
SBLive: You only get a certain number of hours for athletics if you decide to double up, correct?
Wigod: Right. It’s 18 hours a week for the student athletes. That’s three hours a day, six days a week. So I know there has been a question or two about the student who wants to play two sports in the same season, asking if they have the opportunity for more hours. And I think our response to that is they are student athletes first and three hours a day is enough.
We also know with the suspension of bylaw 600, that some of our students may be also playing for club teams and travel teams, as well as high school teams at the same time. So, again, we really want to make sure that everyone understands it — it’s student athlete, and they should be taking care of their academics first before they venture into anything involved in the athletic world. So 18 hours a week, even if they’re doing two sports the same week, hopefully can be managed so they can keep up their academics.
So for all the athletes and parents wondering out there: it’s possible. It’s a challenge, but it is possible.
SBLive: What needs to happen, in your opinion, for fans to be in the stands and for media to be there in person when high school games begin in December? Do you have an update right now on that?
Wigod: Well, I don’t have an update right now because I think the next step that we’re really monitoring is when schools can allow students back on campus. And right now, the Governor with that announcement last week has basically said until certain counties in our state get the appropriate numbers and testing information, and the hospital capacity issues and other things involved improve, schools won’t be allowed to have students back on campus.
In terms of the spectators, reporters and others that would come to watch, again, the local and state health authorities will make those determinations and the local schools will ultimately make those decisions. The public schools, public school districts and private schools will decide who they would allow and so forth. If the choice is to play without fans or not play at all because they can’t have fans, I think schools are still going to choose to play. But we hope it doesn’t come to that because obviously that would mean we’re doing much better in the control of the pandemic and student athletes are being able to go out there and play in a healthy and safe way. So certainly we would want to see the opportunity for spectators to be there too.
SBLive: What is the language that you think health officials will use when things starts to get back to normal? What I mean by that is, health officials won’t say: it’s safe to use a ball in practice now. What will they say that will allow coaches to go beyond physically distanced conditioning workouts?
Wigod: 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. I made a point yesterday and I’d like to make it again that we as a Section, have always tried to work together with club and travel organizations, but but now I think we really have to work together even more.
If the club and travel organizations are not necessarily following what the high schools are going to try to follow, then that’s going to compromise the ability for all of us to go forward.
SBLive: Why did the CIF State office implement an extension of summer time rules?
Wigod: Well the primary reason behind the extension of summer rules was to give the schools maximum flexibility. That was really important. We felt as we lead up to this sports calendar that’s going to start later in December that we should give the schools the flexibility to do whatever they felt was going to be best for them.
There are various things happening around the different counties in our Section and so the summer time rules extension really allows for the flexibility for schools to do whatever fits best for them to provide the best and safest preparation that they can have for the actual high school seasons.
SBLive: If a coach were to ask you, “how come the sit out period isn’t being waived due to the coronavirus pandemic,” how would you respond?
Wigod: I would say that that’s a bylaw put in place by the member schools. We knew we needed to make sure that there was a good response to the COVID-19 situation and the financial hardship waiver that’s been created, I believe, was exactly the appropriate response to that particular issue.
I think some people have looked at the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to discuss a lot of different rules. I’ve had many parents contact me and say, well, aren’t you going to just allow every student an additional two semesters of eligibility now because of COVID-19 and the cancellation of spring sports? I then say, no, that’s not been discussed and isn’t on the table.
I know there were a lot of people that thought we were going to reduce regular seasons significantly, which would mean that the sit out period would be even more unfair. That’s not the case. We’re hoping to have full or extremely close to full seasons.
I do think there are people that believe that once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that everything else would just be responsive to that. That’s not the case either. So we are going forward with what we believe is an appropriate accommodation to deal with the realities of COVID-19. Has it affected people financially? Yes. And there is now a waiver for that. But some of these other decisions about changing schools and so forth really weren’t affected by COVID-19.
I understand the frustration, maybe a transfer was made to try and go to a school with in person learning instead of distance learning, but there’s enough instability as it is and I’m not sure that to help stabilize matters we should just throw all of our bylaws aside and say, due to COVID-19, that these bylaws put in place will no longer be followed.
SBLive: What needs to happen to be granted the COVID-19 financial waiver and who oversees that process?
Wigod: We have the same hardship waiver process that we use for a variety of issues. There are some clear categories for hardship waivers that we can consider, so those are already there. This is just another category that’s been added to the normal process so student athletes will, when they enroll in their new schools, have certain paperwork that needs to be sent to our office through our electronic database. One of our assistant commissioners will do all of the initial reviews of hardship waivers and in that review there is a standard that needs to be met. There must be an unavoidable, unforeseeable and uncorrectable act, condition or event that’s not related to athletics, that causes a severe burden on the student in their family and forces them to choose a different situation based on that hardship they send in.
In terms of the financial hardship, they will need to send proof of job loss, income loss, failed business, something that obviously has resulted in their financial situation clearly changing. If they’re coming from a private school, one of the elements of the hardship waiver standard would be that there has been some dialogue with the former school about the family’s financial situation and whether there was a way for the student to have been able to remain at the school, by way of financial assistance or working hours to aid with tuition. After all of the information is gathered, there will be a decision. So that’s how it will work.
We have an obligation to turn those hardship waiver requests around fairly quickly after review and give those decisions to the schools and to the families.
There are no appeals for hardship waivers. They either meet the standards or they don’t, under the bylaws. So that’s how we work through that process.
SBLive: Say last year an athlete played a sport, I’ll use football as an example, and their team didn’t make the playoffs. They’re out by early November and they moved to a new school immediately following the conclusion of football. Now, 365 days will theoretically go by between their 2019 season ending and the upcoming football season beginning. Without a valid change of residence would that player still have to sit out since it’s been 365 days?
Wigod: Yes, the sit out rule still applies there. You have to realize that in the example you gave, they transferred in advance of the COVID-19 pandemic. So at that time, when they transferred the sit out period rule applied and they would have had to sit out. So just because the season was moved later, that doesn’t affect that situation.
It is what it is, but remember, it’s a longer regular season than maybe people anticipated and that athlete will still have plenty of time left in their seasons to play, which is the way the rule has been always been set up.
SBLive: If an athlete follows a coach to a new school and it’s been proven that they followed a coach, then they have to sit out for a whole year. Some parents are asking: If I have a son or daughter who follows a coach, will they still get in trouble and have to sit out for a year because so much time has passed since the coach was hired and the student athlete transferred? How would you answer that?
Wigod: Again, I think that the answer is that the bylaws are still there. I think there are people who are looking for COVID-19 to be the end all of everything and that it will allow them to do what they want to do and not have the rules apply. That’s not the case. That example you asked about would still violate bylaws.
The fact that the starting dates of the new seasons are potentially more than 12 months away from last year’s doesn’t matter in this regard. I know that people are looking at this unprecedented situation as a way to maybe have some things happen to their benefit. And I understand that. But I don’t believe that our membership wants all rules to be set aside due to this pandemic. I believe the rule that was set aside and a couple others that have been set in motion were appropriate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not sure that throwing out all of our transfer rules, or allowing an additional year of eligibility, or allowing some of the other things that people are hoping for or asking about are really the appropriate responses to this.
SBLive: With the 2020-2021 high school football season being delayed, will that affect the 2021-2022 season? Are there safety concerns having the seasons in such close proximity?
Wigod: Well, that’s definitely something that was discussed and talked about. And you know, you have to go step by step. We are hoping that we’re able to have a season in the 2020-2021 school year and if we’re able to do that, then we have to be trusting of our educators and our coaches in knowing what’s best for the young people that play football. They need to have enough of a recovery time to allow them the ability to finish up that season in April and then have a much more gradual build up into a new season the following August, if we can do that.
That would be ideal if this upcoming school year was the only year that is affected in such a deep way and we somehow are back on track for 2021 and 2022. So I think we all ought to be smart in the way we approach it and make sure that there is enough separation, both physically and mentally for everyone: coaches, student athletes and everybody involved. But I think all of us would like to see the 2021-2022 school year back to what we are used to seeing, three seasons. And so with that comes some challenges with the later ending to our seasons in this particular year, but I would hope that we don’t have to keep dealing with this terrible situation beyond this school year at least, and try to put things back to as normal of a situation as we can.