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A path to the return of high school sports was tentatively laid out in a 2020-2021 calendar released Monday morning by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the state’s governing body for high school athletics.
The announcement confirmed speculation that coronavirus concerns will push fall sports into the winter and that the three high school sports seasons will be condensed into two beginning in late December or early January, with Week 1 of football starting January 8.
The affected fall sports include boys’ and girls’ volleyball, boys’ and girls’ water polo, cross-country, football, field hockey, skiing and snowboarding, and gymnastics. The spring sports, which will begin in March, consist of badminton, soccer, swimming and diving, boys’ and girls’ tennis, wrestling, basketball, boys’ and girls’ golf, baseball, softball, track and field, and lacrosse.
CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod, who presides over all south Santa Barbara County high schools, hosted a wide-ranging press conference Monday afternoon, in which he addressed some of the COVID-19-related issues.
Among the main takeaways was that local school districts and principals will ultimately decide if athletics are brought back to their respective institutions. The CIF calendar is merely a framework for bringing back athletics if external factors allow for the possibility, most notably that COVID-19 cases drop to the point that state and local health officials relax public health guidelines.
“I believe our student athletes will be supportive of this plan,” Wigod said. “I think they will be appreciative of the fact that we have no plans to cancel seasons or sports, and while there is no doubt that there will be difficult choices by everyone to make this work, I think our young people know that it is preferable to have an opportunity to at least make a choice than to not have a chance to do that at all, which is what happened to us all last April, when the spring sports season was canceled.”
As a result of the changes to the sports calendar, the southern section has allowed for athletic activities to resume under the summer period rules until the modified fall sports calendar begins, which means that teams can participate in full workouts and even offseason games once the principals or school districts deem it safe to do so.
In addition, the CIF has temporarily suspended bylaws 600-605, which prohibit outside competition while a sport is in season. This means that athletes can compete in club sports and high school sports simultaneously during the 2020-21 school year, which in the past would have resulted in the potential forfeiture of games.
Top athletes will now be faced with the decision of playing with their club team, high school team, or some combination of both due to the increased overlap caused by the condensed schedule. When taking into account the unregulated nature of club sports and their increasingly integral role in the college recruiting process, one must wonder if the CIF has opened Pandora’s box.
“We’ve never done this before either. This is uncharted territory,” Wigod said. “We’ll have to see how this plays out. It’s the first time in my years or in anybody’s memory that the actual rule 600 will be waived, and it’s a new opportunity out there to see what that means.”
In the eyes of new Santa Barbara High athletic director Todd Heil, the CIF did what they had to do.
“It did make sense for this school year. I don’t see how it would have worked if they didn’t,” Heil said of the CIF decision to allow outside competition during high school season. “You would have had so many kids choosing between high school sports and their club sports. The only way to make our high school sports season viable is to basically waive that rule for this school year.”
The Big West Conference has yet to confirm a sports timeline for 2020-21, so UCSB remains in limbo, especially for its fall sports, which include men’s and women’s soccer. In addition, UCSB is scheduled to host the College Cup in December, which is a rare opportunity for the Gauchos to garner the national spotlight.
Westmont is an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics member institution and competes in the Golden State Athletics Conference, and there has been no word from those governing bodies. As for SBCC, the California Community College Athletic Association announced on July 9 that all sports will be moved to the spring semester.
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