The California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section announced on Tuesday the cancellation of fall playoffs and championships for football, cross-country, girls’ volleyball and water polo due to restrictions from the California Department of Public Health brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The reason we had to do so is we just have not made enough progress for our fall sports to even begin,” Commissioner Rob Wigod said in a teleconference on Tuesday. “That’s so disappointing and, I know, very, very, very hard for student-athletes and all those involved.”
The decision allows member schools to schedule more regular-season contests through the end date for each sport, if and when public health conditions permit competition. Football can play through April 17, cross-country runs until March 27, and the final day of competition for girls’ volleyball and water polo is March 20.
“We hope that is something that is a benefit to them,” said Wigod, who added that spring sports are still scheduled to begin in March.
Pacific League members — which include Burbank, Burroughs, Pasadena, Glendale, Hoover, Arcadia, Pasadena Muir and Crescenta Valley — met on Wednesday to discuss possible schedules and are committed to giving their student-athletes a season in accordance with health guidelines.
CIF officials announced a two-season format in July that delayed the beginning of high school athletics until December, but COVID-19 has been relentless throughout the state, with an alarming surge since the Thanksgiving holiday.
In order for any competition to resume, the stay-at-home order must be lifted, which can only happen when coronavirus cases and hospitalizations go down. The state adopted a color-tiered metric based on test positivity and adjusted case rates for COVID-19 and all but four of 58 counties are in the purple tier, indicating widespread infection.
The only fall sport that can be played while counties are in the purple tier is cross-country, in which dual meets can be held beginning Jan. 25 should public health officials allow it.
Another factor in the cancellation of playoffs was travel. The Southern Section is the largest in the CIF with nearly 600 member schools across seven counties, and it would have been a challenge for CIF to schedule an event with multiple schools’ worth of student-athletes and coaches in one location.
Wigod reiterated that the clearance to play ultimately falls on public health officials.
“If anyone thinks for one second that the CIF Southern Section does not want student-athletes to be out participating in educational-based athletics, they are absolutely 100% wrong,” he said.
The CIF has been working closely with state officials on resuming high school sports, but Wigod expressed frustration over the situation and lack of enforcement. Numerous club teams and private schools have reportedly continued practicing and scheduling contests, neither of which is allowed by public health officials.
“We have been in that dialogue since October, and at times we felt [state officials] were taking into account what we were bringing forward and at times we haven’t felt that way,” Wigod said. “The same guidelines that we are following are the same guidelines that all organizations should be following, and I think the most frustrating thing for us, our member schools, and for those who are seeing this happen is that nothing is being done about people who are violating not only the guidelines for youth sports, but even the stay-at-home order that’s been in effect for the last three weeks.”
Other states moved forward with high school competition, and Wigod doesn’t regret the Southern Section’s decision last summer to delay the season. He just wishes public health officials had given high schools the opportunity.
“We’ve told the governor’s office, we’ve told the California Department of Public Health,” he said. “We suggested a road map forward in October that we believed was workable from health-care professionals on our CIF sports medicine advisory committee.
“I believe if we got the opportunity, our education-based athletic programs will do it right, and if there are issues that have to be dealt with and postponements, hiccups or things that have to be addressed, I know we’ll address them, and I know our schools will do it the right way.”
Wigod also supported the groups such as “Let Them Play” that protest the restrictions on youth sports, but added that he wants to resume play in a safe manner.
Capistrano Valley Christian and Santa Ana Calvary Chapel recently defied public health orders and played football, as did two other teams, prompting the CIF State office to release a statement reminding schools of the consequences that come from violating such orders.
“Any school determined to have participated in or to be conducting interscholastic athletics events in violation of the state’s orders or CIF rules may be subject to CIF Article 22 sanctions, including but not limited to, fines, suspensions or dismissal from membership,” the statement read.
CIF State also rescinded its temporary suspension of bylaws 600-605 regarding outside competition. Athletes are no longer allowed to participate in a high school and club team at the same time because the state department of public health does not allow coaches and athletes to participate in more than one team.