Change is coming — ready or not — during the current triple-digit heat wave hitting the Central Valley.
The California Interscholastic Federation state officials two years ago proposed an adjustment to the athletic calendar around the state to more accurately reflect the academic calendar.
The majority of the CIF’s state championships like football, basketball, wrestling and track and field have all been moved up a week. Thus, the Central Section has moved up the start of its athletic calendar to reflect the statewide change.
That means on Monday, with eight days left in July, area high school football programs will hit the field for the first day of official practice for the 2018 season that begins Aug. 17.
That’s a big change. It moves the section championships up a week to the day after Thanksgiving, and August has three — THREE — regular season games on the 17th, 24th and 31st.
Here’s another change that should also be made: make Friday night football varsity only.
The biggest concern in the Central Valley about having to play another week of regular season football games in August is how late into the night varsity games could possibly go.
With the junior varsity games starting at 5 p.m. and having at least half of the regular season played during the summer, there will be quite a few delays to the start of the JV games because of the heat and AQI (air quality index). Those delays could push varsity game start times back to as late as 8:30 or 9 p.m.
No one wants that.
There are two ways to make this change, and either one is an improvement over the current scheduling.
I am no expert on the workings of housing a football game at a high school stadium, but I have covered more than 65 football games in the four years I have been here in Bakersfield and plan on covering hundreds more in the years to come. I have seen the benefits of setting the stage with a proper build-up to the spectacle that is Friday night football and also seen how tough it can be to have high school athletes on the field in the heat of the day and late into the night.
First, move frosh/soph games to Wednesday with a 6:30 p.m. start and do the same for JV games on Thursdays. That way, the games don’t start at the hottest part of the day and the younger athletes aren’t playing past 9 p.m. on a school night.
The other is to move the doubleheader for the two lower-level games to Thursdays. Yes, this one could push the JV game to a late finish on a school night if there are any delays, but, nothing is perfect.
With that, let’s set the table.
-- First off, the Kern County Officials Association (KCOA) is fully in favor of making Friday nights varsity only.
“We would prefer that, to be honest,” KCOA instructional chair Mark Roberts said. “We would prefer that there would be one game on Friday. Two things it does: it allows our varsity officials to be fresh for one game instead of doing two. The second option, by moving the JV game after the freshman game, it allows us to get less-experienced officials on the JV games to get them more time on the field.”
Think about it: currently, those officials normally get to game locations at 3:30 p.m. to prepare for the JV/varsity doubleheader. Changing that to a 5:30 or 6 o’clock arrival and working just one game would allow those officials to be better prepared mentally and physically to be at their peak from start to finish. That’s better than them being exhausted by 10:30 p.m. and possibly during a critical fourth quarter drive.
“Think about it this way,” Roberts said, “When playoffs start at 7 p.m., for us to go home (after our day jobs) and eat and then get there before the game is big. During the season, we are there by 3:30 p.m. to get dressed and be ready. We all would like the one game. It would benefit us and the teams because they would get better officiating than being dog-tired in August and September in the fourth quarter.”
What a concept.
-- When asked about such a proposal, six of eight athletic directors around Kern County who responded via email, wrote they would be in favor of it.
The five to six varsity football games played in a home stadium for an athletic department at a high school in Kern County and around the country are the biggest money makers annually.
Yet, with the current scheduling of games, the varsity game is the only one of the three levels that does not have a guaranteed start time because it follows the JV game.
It’s all predicated on what time the JV game ends.
All of the resources surrounding Friday night games are for the varsity games. The food vendors, the homecoming festivities, the senior night appreciations. Yet, currently all of those are put on hold if the JV game runs long.
-- Games would start on time and the players wouldn’t be playing a violent and physical game until 11 p.m.
These student-athletes aren’t just getting up before 7 a.m. for school on Fridays. They are getting up before 6 a.m. for a team breakfast in many cases, then going to school.
Sure, they may have time to sneak in a nap between school and time to warm up, but really, who does that with adrenaline pumping through their veins leading up to kickoff?
These kids are running full steam all day and asking them to play meaningful minutes pushing into the wee hours of the night is just as dangerous as asking a kid to suit up in triple digits.
-- Even the guy overseeing all the athletic programs in the Kern High School District would like to see this change happen.
Stan Greene, the director of school support services at KHSD, said the earlier start to the season was inevitable with the change to the state playoff schedule.
“For this area of the state, this early start is not ideal,” Greene said. “We have guidelines for the heat. We are ensuring we are providing all the information to our coaches to keep our kids safe.”
Varsity football games at the high school level are a Friday night tradition, and Kern County loves it some football. Getting this done would help everyone involved.
The solution is to get everyone on the same page. And if the majority of those involved appear to be saying the same thing, why hasn’t the change been made?
No change is easy, but this is one that makes the most sense.