Conquerors News · CIF Southern Section cancels playoffs for football and other fall sports because of coronavirus pandemic


By Dan Albano ~ OC Register

The CIF Southern Section, the largest high school section in the state, canceled its playoffs for football and the rest of the fall sports on Tuesday, Jan. 19 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Citing a desire to create more time for schools to potentially play regular-season games in an increasingly shrinking window for those sports, the section of almost 600 schools followed the game plan of the CIF State, which on Dec. 1 canceled its regional and state playoffs for Season 1 sports. The revised fall lineup of sports includes girls volleyball, boys and girls water polo and boys and girls cross country.

CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod also cited the difficulty the pandemic has created for the sports calendar and playoff qualifying as reasons for the “regretful” cancellation but told fall students-athletes not to lose hope.

“Today’s announcement at least allows even more time that’s potentially available for (them) to get competition,” he said during a teleconference with media. “It’s not over. I don’t believe that it is. There is still time left in our fall sports, approximately two months.”

St. John Bosco football coach Jason Negro said the section made the right call.

“I am thankful they did this for the betterment of all programs across the section,” said Negro, whose team captured the CIF-SS Division 1 title last season. “Right now, it’s about playing as many games as possible, not playoffs.”

The Los Angeles City Section, comprised mostly of schools from the Los Angeles Unified School District, also announced Tuesday that it won’t hold championships in football, water polo or girls volleyball for similar reasons. The section, however, aims to host cross country finals on March 27.

The regular season for fall sports is scheduled to begin statewide Monday, Jan. 25, but will likely be delayed again in the Southern and L.A. sections because of the Southern California stay-at-home order.

The order, in response to the recent spike in coronavirus cases, charts ICU capacity at hospitals and applies to Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and the section’s three northern counties of Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

UC Irvine-based epidemiologist Andrew Noymer last week estimated that the order could end in mid-February at the earliest.

Once the regional stay-at-home order is lifted in Southern California, athletic programs would be able to compete in sports approved under the guidance of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), which groups activities into the state’s colored tier system for monitoring the virus. In the Southern Section, all seven of its counties are also in the purple tier (widespread risk), where cross country is the lone fall sport permitted to compete.

Football, indoor girls volleyball and water polo were all placed by the CDPH in the orange tier, or allowed once there is moderate risk for the virus. To reach the orange tier, health conditions would have to dramatically improve two tiers, leaving many in the high school scene to wonder if any games would be played before the fall window closes. In football, for example, the regular season ends April 17 but could be extended another two weeks to April 30, Wigod said.

The football extension comes from a precautionary cushion placed into the schedule from the CIF State’s sports medicine advisory committee, state associate executive director Brian Seymour said. “We haven’t quite gotten to that discuss point yet,” Wigod said. “If that becomes a factor that is really important … we can consider that.”

In the Southern Section, the seasons for girls volleyball and boys and girls water polo end March 20, and March 27 for cross country.

Wigod told the section’s schools that holding cross country championships in one location for seven counties was “not realistic.”

The last time the Southern Section football playoffs were officially canceled was in 1945 because of World War II, section historian John Dahlem confirmed Tuesday. The announcement, planned for weeks, arrives just four days after the grassroots parent and youth organization #LetThemPlayCA held rallies across the state urging for high school sports to begin immediately.

“We are, of course, deeply disappointed,” #LetThemPlayCA organizer Ken Elliott of Oceanside said. “We believe that sports can be restored safely, and that the continued cessation of sports is causing irreparable harm to the physical and mental health of our children.”

Athletic teams are able to condition or conduct skill training during the stay-at-home order, but for some fall coaches and athletes, they may begin to look toward the spring sports offerings or the fall of 2021.

“I feel bad for our seniors, but it’s time to bite the bullet and plan for the fall,” Don Lugo football coach Greg Gano said. “How are we going to start playing? We haven’t lifted a weight in half a year. We haven’t thrown a football in half a year. Our district has been strict and we’ve followed the guidelines, and it takes about five or six weeks to prepare to play a game, to make it safe and have guys ready and we just don’t have that time.”

La Habra football coach Frank Mazzotta said he hopes his team’s league, the Freeway League, will play a “some” games, which is what the Southern Section hopes as well.

“I’m still optimistic,” he said. “We’re about a month away from (one suggested) starting day, but a lot can happen in a month. Joe Biden says he wants to open everything up, and the (COVID) numbers could change.

“As long we have that three weeks of preparation out there, then it’s possible we can play this spring. But every day it’s getting closer to the point of no return.”

Corona del Mar football coach Dan O’Shea echoed the concerns about the mental health of players.

“Your heart aches for the seniors right now,” O’Shea said. “Not just missing playing the sport they love, but the socialization and the mental health of the kids that’s so important.”

King of Riverside principal Michael West, also president of the Southern Section Executive Council, acknowledged the section will lose revenue due to the cancellation of the playoffs but applauded the section for thinking about its student-athletes.

“The decision to get rid of the playoffs is a significant move,” West said. “But in the end, the decisions need to be made for the athletes and what is best for them at the moment. If that means getting out of the way and making some sacrifices, then that is what needs to be done.”

Wigod said the revenue from the playoffs — also canceled last spring — account for 50 percent of the Southern Section’s operating budget. He added the schools also will lose the shared revenue but the section will be applying for another round of payroll protection.

“We are struggling,” Wigod said. “We’ve had to let employees go, and furloughed employees and cut expenses.”

The Southern Section said its revised spring schedule remains in place, starting with girls tennis potentially on Feb. 22. Wigod said the possibility of holding spring championships would be re-evaluated in early to mid-April.

Last March, all the spring sports seasons were abruptly canceled as the pandemic began to take a grip on the region. In July, the section countered by delaying the start of its fall sports season from August to December and January.

The cancellations of the fall playoffs arrive as some high school athletes and programs have transitioned into playing for club teams, which are playing locally and out-of-state against the guidance of state health department.

Jim Perry, athletic director for the Huntington Beach Union district and president-elect of the CIF-SS Council, said his district is exploring options for games between district schools.

“It’s a horribly tough situation for our kids,” Perry said. “But one of the great things about education-based athletics is that it teaches kids resiliency.”

–Staff writers Steve Fryer, Eric-Paul Johnson, Fred Robledo and Robert Morales contributed to this report.

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