Let the conversations and debates begin.
After weeks of deliberation, the California Interscholastic Federation unveiled its plans Monday to bring back high school sports for the upcoming school year.
It’s not perfect — not by a long shot — but assuming the COVID-19 pandemic cooperates in the next few months, Kern County residents can ring in the new year with high school football.
That news is welcome to most, albeit not a surprise either. It was expected that fall sports were going to be moved to January, and on cue, the CIF announced football, volleyball, cross country and water polo are scheduled to start practice in mid-December, with season openers slated for either the end of the year or first week of 2021.
But the plan does have its share of wrinkles that could prove problematic for high school athletics, particularly during it’s “spring” sports season.
With the aforementioned sports playing well into March, it leaves the remaining 12 sports to run concurrently from late-February and Mid-March to late-May and mid-June.
Basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, track and field, soccer, tennis, golf, swim and dive, and competitive cheer will all play at the same time in the spring.
That schedule obviously hits multi-sport athletes hard, where the merging of the winter, spring and some fall sports could create a logistical nightmare for all involved.
“There’s nothing to limit a student-athlete from (playing multiple sports), except that there is a limitation on the number of hours per week for them to practice or compete,” said Ryan Tos, Central Section commissioner. “In theory, it’s kind of crazy, but a student could maybe play baseball, run track and swim. It’s possible.”
It’s also a bit more dicey for smaller schools that rely heavily on those student-athletes than at larger schools.
“Schools like Arvin and Shafter where they have multiple athletes that play different sports,” said Mike Garza, Highland baseball coach. “And they don’t have the numbers like they do at Libertys and the Centennials and all that. They depend on those kids for their season, and if it interferes with that. I think the kids are going to have to decide what sport they really want to focus on.”
Certainly, some tough decisions will have to be made and there’s plenty of questions still to be answered. Will student-athletes try to play multiple sports during the same season? The CIF has no rule against it, but are the rigors of additional practices and games too much to expect from athletes, both physically and academically?
“It’s kind of crazy,” Garza said. “You’re going to have a kid having to go to basketball practice, then going to baseball practice and then somewhere in the middle they still have to keep up their grades. And for a high school student, I think that can be overwhelming.”
Garza also has concerns about the health of multi-sport athletes.
“I’m sure injuries are going to rise,” he said. “For bodies that are still maturing … playing two sports. You roll an ankle in one, and you don’t want to let your other team down. And then you play even harder and possibly hurt yourself even more. So it’s definitely going to be interesting to see how they are going to do this.”
And will coaches cooperate with each other and “share” players?
“I think the big thing is that when you have kids that are crossing over, it normally means those kids are really, really good athletes,” Garces football coach Paul Golla said. “And it comes down to the coaches having a great plan and working it out together.”
Another concern heading into the announcement centered around rumors that schedules were going to be trimmed, and there would be limits on out-of-town opponents. Changing the structure from three seasons of sports to two helps stretch those schedules out and get a variety of games on them. The tradeoff is having players potentially double up their efforts.
“At the end of the day we felt like this plan provides more opportunity for more kids,” Tos said. “I guess the other side of the coin is, instead of looking at the multi-sport athlete, maybe you have a softball player that only got to play five games last year. If we had gone with a three-season scenario, we might have only had six or seven weeks to play this year. With this scenario they get to play essentially a full season.”
Another option student-athletes will have is playing for outside organizations, such as AAU or traveling teams during the season. The CIF decided to suspend its Bylaws 600-605 and allow athletes more opportunities to play.
“I feel like that’s a good and a bad thing,” said Garrett Brown, Bakersfield Christian boys basketball coach. “It’s a double-edged sword. If you have kids doing both, they’re going to be highly overworked and more prone to soft-tissue injuries and stuff like that, but at the same time, my ultimate goal is to get my kids to college and have it paid for. So if they feel like an AAU tournament is more important than a couple of practices, then I’d respect their decision.
“We’re in unprecedented times right now. So at the end of the day, I want to support my guys. And give them a chance to make decisions on what’s best for them.”