The coronavirus outbreak has cast the immediate future of sports into murky waters, including high school football in San Diego.
With spring practices already cancelled and the start of summer practices in doubt, many are wondering if there will be a high school football season this fall. Will the season be delayed? Is it even safe to have a season? How will decisions about the season be reached?
“Everything is on the table at this point,” said Jerry Schniepp, commissioner of the California Interscholastic Foundation (CIF) San Diego section, but any decisions about high school football will start with medical clearance. The decision, to play or not play, will be made in consultation with medical experts.
“First and foremost is going to be the safety of our student-athletes. Liability aside, we don’t want to put kids in a situation where we might be causing them to get sick, so that will be at the forefront of our decision," he said.
Also, at the forefront of any decision, will be the physical nature of football. Simply put, social distancing is not possible in football.
“To have football we need to be comfortable with people touching each other and being right next to each other regularly. Could we potentially have girl’s golf and not football? The answer is yes, it’s a lot easier to social distance in some sports than others," Schniepp said.
If medical clearance is granted, then and only then, is the CIF is willing to get creative to save the season.
“We’ve discussed late starts and a shortened season, games without spectators, shorten our playoffs, maybe have no state playoffs to allow us to extend our local season a bit. Like I started with, everything is on the table, it’s just a matter of when we can get going.”
What about pushing back the season and playing high school football in the spring?
“The difficulty for high schools is facilities and multi-sport athletes, I don’t think we can have football, lacrosse, track and field all taking place at same time in the spring. Facilities are going to be a big part of the decision and it’s going to make it more difficult at high schools, than it would at higher levels," he said.
If the football season is completely lost that will have a big impact on other sports, because football funds the majority of the other sports in the San Diego section.
“That’s a financial fact for us, I would venture to say it’s 30 to 40 to 50% of the income brought in by a school in athletics," Schniepp said.
While we wait for this to get sorted out, high school football fields remain locked, and players and coaches locked out of off-season conditioning, passing leagues and team building. If and when these gates are unlocked commissioner Schniepp thinks local high school sports will come back stronger than ever.
“I honestly think we’ll have a resilience in high school sports after this ends, there will be a celebration, because we’ve never been without it before and we’ve taken it for granted, I don’t think that will be the case when we come back. My message is hang-in there, we’re going to get there," he said.
Optimism abounds for the future of high school football, but at the same time…. preaching pigskin patience.