CCS, SCVAL look to salvage sports seasons

Malia Wanderer, Sports Editor

This map of county tier status is the most recent of the weekly updates released by the California Interscholastic Federation. The earliest date competition can begin is Jan. 25, as outlined by the California Department of Public Health, for counties not under the state’s regional Stay-at-Home Order. According to Central Coast Section Commissioner David Grissom, despite the release of updated guidance from the state, high-contact sports’ seasons may be in jeopardy due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. “The reality is, every sport is tied to a tier color, and at some point, [it] has to get to the color in order for them to compete,” Grissom said. “I fear that if we can’t get to a certain tier by a certain time, then there is a potential to lose seasons.” Photo: California Interscholastic Federation
After sports competitions were halted for nine months and the future of high school athletics became grim, recent announcements from regional sports authorities have paved a tenuous path forward, giving athletes a better sense of whether and when they’ll be able to compete.

According to the new state guidelines designed to keep student-athletes safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, low-contact outdoor sports, such as cross country, can compete while a county is in the Purple Tier. Moderate-contact outdoor sports, including baseball, are allowed in the Red Tier, and outdoor high-contact sports and indoor low-contact sports, such as soccer and volleyball, are allowed once a county reaches the Orange Tier. Finally, competition in indoor medium- and high-contact sports — basketball, wrestling, and competitive cheer — isn’t allowed until a county is in Yellow Tier. 

In response to the state’s announcement, the California Interscholastic Federation — which governs high school sports in California — released a proposed plan for the return of education-based athletics, detailing rules and precautions. The plan allows for teams to practice — with social distancing and other precautions — regardless of county tier status, and for counties out of the Stay-at-Home Order, competition can begin on Jan. 25 in accordance with the tier restrictions.

The original statewide schedule released by the CIF consisted of two “winter/spring” seasons, with fall sports in Season One and winter and spring sports in Season Two. Individual sectional leagues in California are allowed to come out with their own schedules, which the Central Coast Section considered, according to Commissioner David Grissom. However, Grissom said that CCS decided to keep the same two-season schedule in a recent committee meeting but removed language in the rules that prevented out-of-season sports from practicing.

“We kept seasons of sport where they are, but a league could choose to have their own schedule,” Grissom told The Paly Voice. “One of the changes we did make to the calendar, we removed the practice start date and actually had sports regardless of season start on Saturday [Jan. 16]. The reason that we removed that was that the executive committee had a concern of student safety and student wellness.”

Grissom said that CCS also decided to cancel all section playoffs for all Season One sports, giving more time for teams to compete within their own leagues.

“The way the guidelines currently read, we couldn’t have had section playoffs anyway — you can only travel to an adjacent county,” Grissom said. “So we were able to create an end date that’s further out, and that will give an additional two to four weeks to all the sports to finish their seasons.”

To meet the requirements set forth by the CDPH and maximize opportunities for athletic competition, the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League ratified a modified schedule on Thursday. The schedule consists of three truncated seasons with sports arranged by tier level, each of which has a cancellation date in the case that tier requirements are not met. Due to the SCVAL adopting a different schedule than the CCS and CIF, athletes will not be eligible to participate in any sectional or state playoffs.

According to Palo Alto High School Athletic Director Nelson Gifford, the goal of the modified schedule is to allow athletes to participate in a wider variety of sports. 

“There [was] a growing consensus that shifting the schedules around [needed] to happen,” Gifford said on Jan. 12. “The goal is to move those [high-contact sports] later so that it gives us time to see what changes to the county health order happen, and hopefully COVID-19 cases go down.” 

While the future of high school sports remains uncertain, Gifford said that the SCVAL board is focused on making the most of the opportunities allowed by the guidelines set forth by the CDPH. 

“So much of this is up in the air right now, and it’s challenging for everybody to find a way to get back,” Gifford said. “There’s people who are working every single day to try to rescue this season and give something to the students.”