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Facing his biggest challenge as CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod said Thursday “all options” are on the table for what he hopes will be the eventual return of high school sports in Orange County and throughout Southern California.
Wigod and other CIF officials have faced serious challenges since the cancellation of spring sports due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, there are questions looming, such as when football and other fall sports will start and what will happen to winter and spring sports affecting the 567 member schools.
Wigod, in his ninth year as commissioner, answered questions from OC Sports Zone on a number of issues, including the affect of the coronavirus pandemic on athletics.
What is the latest on fall sports, including football?
Wigod: Our position is that all options are on the table meaning that we have a calendar in place for fall sports now and that calendar remains in place, however, we are also prepared for the potential that the calendar has to be pushed back. I want people to know that we will make every effort that we can to have fall sports in the fall and in the window that people are used to prior to winter break. I also want people to know that if we don’t get to the point where we can get it done in that time frame, then the answer is not going to be to cancel fall sports and then be working on ways to implement the winter. The answer is we’re going to try and make fall, winter and spring sports happen at some point in the 2020-2021 school year. Again, I want to reiterate that we’re not looking to cancel the fall sports season if we aren’t able to make it in that normal, typical window. We still want to explore possibilities and have already explored possibilities for fall, winter and spring to happen within the same school year of 2020-2021.
What factors will be involved in sports resuming in the fall?
Wigod: We’re going to rely on the health professionals and the recommendations that come from the medical experts. But the thing that also needs to be kept in mind is the process of how this will be rolled out. Our schools obviously need to open, and they need to open for academics first. And then at some point, they will decide if it’s time for the athletic teams to come back and begin working out. Unlike the usual fall where our schools have teams back on campus practicing and playing games even before the start of school, we aren’t hearing a lot about that. We’re hearing schools will begin but they aren’t sure what format they will deliver academic education when they open. There are so many different considerations they need to make on how they are going to open their schools and from there, these decisions on when to bring the athletic teams back would come next and again, they’re local decisions. They’re either going to be made by public schools, superintendents, school boards, private schools, heads of school and the private school boards and the local entities responsible for those campuses and those schools and those communities to make the decisions they think that are in their best interest.
What are the challenges that you are facing?
Wigod: At some point, the tremendous challenge we have as a section is to determine if there are enough programs that return to then implement a calendar for regular season and championship competition. In a section of 567 member high schools, will be a huge task facing us to make the appropriate decisions that there are enough programs back that we would go ahead and implement a calendar. If the girls golf calendar and the girls tennis calendar can be implemented in a safe and healthy way through the recommendations of the health professionals and the decisions of our schools, we would certainly explore that and maybe football and girls volleyball and cross country or boys water polo could start at a later time. This happened a couple months ago, in the middle of March. There are still two months until August 1. There is about the same amount of time since this began before we get to August 1.
Would there be a minimum number of schools competing in sports in order to have CIF playoffs?
Wigod: I can tell you, if 20 percent of our programs are back, I don’t see us implementing a calendar for regular season or championships. I think we would be looking at 50 percent and see how far you go before you start making serious consideration on that. I think some folks are thinking, or maybe hoping there’s going to be an all-clear siren and there will be a siren blowing and it means that 100 percent of everybody is back and we can all go together. And that’s not necessarily going to be the way it happens. It just has to be a decision where there are a certain number of schools that are ready and we don’t want to keep holding them back and we certainly respect the schools who don’t come back. We have complete respect for those decisions. We’re certainly not going to penalize them or sanction them or think any ill will toward them because they decided they’re just not ready yet.
We’ve heard you mention football could start as late as January?
Wigod: It could, and again depending on how things play out. That could be one of the options. I just want to assure people that these won’t be hasty decisions. The easy thing to do is make a decision and maybe just cancel everything or just say it’s not possible, and we just don’t believe that. We believe there is plenty of time to continue to explore different ways that this can happen. And we just know this is what people want; it’s what our student athletes want, it’s what our coaches, athletic directors, our principals, our school communities, our parents, our officials and what the media want. It’s what everybody wants and in learning how devastating it was for the spring and how awful that was to cancel the spring season that had already started and what affect it was, we’re getting just such a strong message from our schools that we’re going to work with you and we’re going to do this together and let’s find a way to deliver fall, winter and spring somewhere in the 2020-2021 school year.
What do you envision the safety regulations to be in place?
Wigod: The National Federation has developed a pretty comprehensive list of recommedations and safety protocols that they developed with their Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. We have a CIF State Advisory Committee for sports medicine and have physicians who work with us so we will be crafting a CIF list of recommendations and protocol that we want to have as a resource. We’re not the ones who are the decision makers here. The local health authorities, the schools, the school boards are going to decide when these activities can resume. What we want to try and be is a resource for them so that when they do resume, they can look at these protocols of these medical professionals have put together and implement some of those protocols to make sure they come back in a healthy and safe way. We’re not going to be the one to tell a school, ‘time for you to go out there. You do this, you wear masks or you do that.’ That’s just not the role we play, those are local decisions.
What about the possibility of games being played without fans, especially football games?
Wigod: Another lesson from the spring is that people want to see these seasons resume and I would believe that when faced with playing without fans or not playing at all, my sense from our schools and our membership is we would still want to play. It’s not an ideal situation or circumstance, but if that is the only option available and we don’t play because that option is not allowed then I don’t think that’s what our schools want. Hopefully, if the students are able to be interacting together, and they’re on buses going to games and they’re on campus every day, I have to believe it’s not that much of a leap to alllow people into a gym to watch a volleyball match. You can do temperature check at the door, you can social distance sitting them in the stands, there are things you can do. We may be limiting the numbers, but even with that said, if we get into a position where there’s only one option of having it without fans or no option, I think our schools would say, let’s have it without fans.
Looking back at the spring, what is your message to the seniors who had their seasons affected?
Wigod: It was just been devastating knowing how hard and difficult it was for our seniors who invested so much to be able to finish their journey as high school student athletes with their last season of sport and to have that taken away and something that we can’t make up for them and we will never be able to replace what they have lost. I can only say to them that like many things, you learn from things and you overcome them and the challenges and the difficulties you have to deal with. This is no way should be a barrier for them going forward. They need to build on their accomplishments and go on to the next chapter in their journey and just start being sucessful where they go next. I would never be able to appreciate them more or thank them more for all that they’ve done and just feel terrible that we were not allowed to let them to complete that journey.
We’re guessing this is your biggest challenge as commissioner?
Wigod: …. In my time, this is certainly as much of a challenge that we have faced. But I also believe it’s a call to leadership and it’s a call that we’re ready to answer. And it’s how you can overcome what’s put in front of you that becomes the defining moment, and I want that to be a defining moment for us to be able to get through this situation and come back, and we will come back and if we can come back and look back at what has happened and say, ‘thank goodness we were able to still come through and deliver.’ And while it is a tremendously difficult time that we’re not used to or anticipated, I do want to have the faith and belief that we will come through it and will look back and say it says a lot about our character and a lot about what we think is important in and how we value education based athletics to do everything and anything we can to get it back to where people enjoy it again and do the things we all love to do.
NEXT: Wigod talks about the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the CIF and high school athletics, the new football playoff system and more.
-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; firstname.lastname@example.org