California’s governing body for high school sports said Wednesday afternoon that it intends to host regional postseason play for many spring sports, including basketball, but kids in Northern California were left out.
The California Interscholastic Federation announced plans for Southern California regional tournaments in late May and early June in basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, golf, tennis and boys’ volleyball. However, there will be no such tournaments in Northern California, after four of the six sections that encompass the region opted out of a spring postseason, CIF executive director Ron Nocetti said.
Only the Oakland and Central Coast sections plan to host their own championships, according to CIF. Without the Northern, North Coast, Sac-Joaquin and San Francisco sections, hosting a NorCal regional “it is not feasible,” CIF said in a news release.
“We’ve said from the very beginning that we’re going to do the events that we’re able to do,” Nocetti said in a phone interview. “I think we’re at that point where we know what events we can move forward with, and we’re going to move forward with those.”
In Southern California, soccer and tennis will begin the spring postseason with regional championships that end no later than June 5, while baseball and softball will bring it to a close by June 26. However, CIF said it is “prepared to adjust” the schedules “as necessary” to crown section champions. It has yet to decide to open attendance beyond immediate household members, Nocetti said.
There will be no state championships in swimming and diving, track and field or wrestling.
The decision to move forward with SoCal championships crystalized in the weeks following the California Department of Public Health’s relaxed guidelines on youth sports, Nocetti said. The state federation waited to see if any of its sections would reverse course and opt into the postseason. Their choices ultimately “determine(d) what we are able to do,” said Nocetti, who was careful not to cast blame on any individual section.
“Could there have been a different outcome if more sections in the north decided to do championships? Certainly,” Nocetti said. “But what we all need to do is not look back at that but move forward with what we’re doing — and also have a full and normal school year next year.”
While Nocetti did not rule out the possibility of at-large bids for Northern California teams in the Southern California championships, Central Coast Section commissioner Dave Grissom said the travel complications would be too difficult to overcome.
“There’s just too many moving parts,” Grissom said.
He noted similarities in the challenges that led to the cancellations of swimming and diving, track and field and wrestling.
“Because part of the issue is traveling. It’s bringing masses of people into one location. It’s just a myriad of issues.”
The CCS was the largest of two sections in Northern California to host its own championships this spring. Grissom said he saw the writing on the wall when the other four sections made their decisions months ago but wasn’t disappointed with the outcome.
“In my opinion, the state made the right decision,” Grissom said. “I mean, the only sections you have are us and Oakland, and there’s not that many schools in Oakland. … I’m happy for the kids down there and know that next year, we’ll have the same opportunities here.”
In the North Coast Section, which includes about half the high schools in the Bay Area, commissioner Pat Cruickshank said in January that it would opt out of a potential postseason for any sport in order to give its leagues the most scheduling flexibility. At the time, cases of COVID-19 were near their peak in California, and there wasn’t yet a clear path to return to play.
Almost three months later, California has relaxed its health restrictions, and the neighboring Central Coast Section finalized its plans for a spring postseason, but Cruickshank said the NCS did not plan to change course.
The spring Season 2 playoffs will be the first state or regional tournament in nearly 15 months, after CIF’s spring playoffs were interrupted last March by the COVID-19 pandemic. All sports were shut down on March 11, 2020, and there has not been a CIF-sanctioned championship since.
The first high school contests resumed in March after being forced into yearlong hiatus by the coronavirus, but the athletes who returned to the field first didn’t have a shot at postseason play.
Last summer, when CIF delayed fall sports for the first time, it announced plans to host a postseason in April. But by December, it was forced to change course with no path back to play yet and said it would cancel state and regional playoffs for Season 1 sports once they earned approval from state health authorities, in order to provide as many student-athletes the most time to participate in the shortened season.
Sports in Season 2, however, were able to hold out hope for the opportunity to hang banners at the end of this season, after many missed out last spring. In Southern California, at least, that patience paid off Wednesday.