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Q&A with CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti: Why the CIF pushed California high school sports to December 2020 and what went into that decision

SBLive's Connor Morrissette held a wide-ranging interview with CIF State Executive Director Ron Nocetti.

Following CIF State's announcement that high school sports in California will not return until Dec. 2020 at the earliest, CIF State Executive Director Ron Nocetti and CIF State Associate Executive Director Brian Seymour discussed the governing body's plan with SBLive California reporter Connor Morrissette.

Below are the highlights and most pertinent information from the interview:

(Editor’s note: Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.)

SBLive: Why did you ultimately make the call to push everything to December/January?

Nocetti: What it really came down to is what we've said since the start of this, way back in March, is that we were going to follow the guidance of the Governor's office, the California Department of Education, and the California Department of Public Health. And that's what we've done. And so I think Brian did a great job with the 10 Section Commissioners. He's met with them through all of this going back to early June working on different plans. I really appreciate the leadership that the Commissioners have shown. I think after last week's announcement by the Governor about schools and how they would be started, it really crystallized into this one plan as the best one moving forward.

SBLive: The Northern Section came out with a statement that said that they were going to try to play fall sports when county officials are okay with it, which could maybe occur this fall and go against the dates that CIF State put out. Does that put you in a tough spot? What's your reaction to the Northern Section potentially going against some of the dates that you proposed? Is that allowed?

Nocetti: Yeah, I think one thing we've talked with the Commissioners all along about is that we knew that in a state such as ours, with the variances in geography and school size and a lot of different issues, that there may be some things that have to be done differently under the guidelines of the state agencies I mentioned before. I know that the Northern Section's local departments of Public Health will work closely with the California Department of Public Health. And I know they've said that if somehow they get to that point they can't play, that they would then fall in line with the state calendar at that time. So they kept us abreast of that possibility all along. We hope it works for them.

SBLive: Brian, what were some of the biggest challenges of agreeing to these dates with the Commissioners?

Seymour: To be perfectly honest, the Commissioners were tremendous. They always had one common goal amongst all of them, which was how do we provide our student athletes with as close to a traditional schedule as possible? And that's what they always came back to. That was their ultimate goal. The cohesiveness of that particular group was tremendous and getting them on the same page was easy to do. We worked through multiple scenarios before getting to this one. And as Ron mentioned earlier, with the announcement from state leadership, it just became very clear that this was their best calendar.

SBLive: Will the 2021-2022 high school sports calendar look any different following this announcement? Has that even been discussed yet?

Nocetti: I think we have to look at that moving forward, but right now, our concern is this school year. We also know that there could be potential issues and we want to make sure whatever we do, we continue to move forward in a healthy and safe manner for our student athletes. So assuming we stay with the calendar we have right now, we haven't discussed adjustments to next year. But I think when we get to that point in time, we'll certainly have those conversations.

SBLive: We saw spring sports get canceled last year because of coronavirus. If time goes on and things don't get better, would fall sports get canceled in an effort to save spring sports? Or would seasons get reworked to try and still get everything in? Have any contingency plans been discussed to this point?

Nocetti: I'll start out with an overriding view on all of that and then have Brian fill in some details. Basically, right now, just like we've been doing since March, we've been monitoring the guidance from all of the appropriate state agencies. And just because we've announced a calendar doesn't mean we're going to stop monitoring. So from this point forward, we're going to continue to be looking at the guidance released. I think the one thing everyone agrees on is this situation is completely fluid and changes daily. And so I don't think anyone has the answer to what this will look like in December. With all of that said, I'll have Brian talk you through what would happen if we got to that point in the conversation.

Seymour: The most important part of this whole thing is that we are trying to protect the spring athletes because they lost their seasons this past year due to COVID-19. So when thinking of your question, the Commissioners have brought up those types of scenarios, like you asked about. To echo what Ron said, we can't really anticipate what's going to happen come December or January. If it does turn out to be not what we expect it to be, which is in our favor, then we'll make adjustments to those sports in that particular season. But ideally, we're just going to have to kind of sit back and wait and see. We have plans ready to go in the event that does occur. But there's so many different scenarios that can come up that we really need to focus today on just our calendar that we put out.

SBLive: How much collaboration or communication has there been between state association directors on these decisions? Have you had any discussions with state executive directors from Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona in an effort to come to a conclusion here?

Nocetti: We've had collective meetings with Directors from all states in the past few weeks. We've also met with what we call our Sections which is more of our bordering states as well as Alaska, Hawaii, Montana and Wyoming. This is so different from state to state that I don't think there's going to necessarily be collective action. We've just been keeping everyone abreast of what we're doing and sharing good ideas.

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And then I think every state has said the same thing, that they're going by their Governor's office and their State Department of Public Health and working with their schools and moving forward. Because let's face it, the most important thing that we're doing here is making sure that we work with our school communities on how they're going to return to education and return to learning for these students. This isn't just about sports. This is about students in music, drama, the arts. They all want to get back to what they're doing and we all want that too.

SBLive: There's a lot of time between now and December when hopefully teams in my area will be beginning fall sports. Will there be uniform safety guidelines from your office? A COVID-19 waiver? What's coming down the pipeline following the release of these dates from your office?

Nocetti: The guidelines that we put out, our initial guidelines in conjunction with the NFHS, put out phases that allowed school teams to return to conditioning and training.

There were additional guidelines regarding when we can return to contests that dealt with fans and any rule changes. The NFHS has been great about, for example, in football, extending the team box to the 10-yard line. So it allows for more room between players. So those are all things that we're going to look at. The waivers and those things are really school district issues, not necessarily CIF. So I'm sure they're having those conversations at at their local sites for when we return to play. But we're going to do everything we can to to make sure that our schools have all the best information moving forward so that when we can go back to the fields, the courts, and the pools we're doing so in a healthy and safe way.

SBLive: Due to the unprecedented circumstances, your office suspended a rule that prevented high school athletes from playing club and high school sports at the same time. That will now be allowed, assuming sports can come back when we hope they can. Could you please explain why that decision was made?

Nocetti: We wanted to show flexibility especially since some of our sports were moved completely out of the time frame that they normally occur. Others were starting earlier than they've ever started and some are going later than they've ever gone before. And so I think we felt the need to be flexible so that our student athletes didn't necessarily get pulled in different directions and had the ability, if allowed since Sections and leagues can be more restrictive, to play whatever they want. So I think the main thing is for families that are looking at doing that, making sure they communicate with their school so that if there are already more restrictive rules at their school site, they know about those in advance. But I really commend the Section Commissioners on allowing that to happen because I think it does alleviate a lot of concerns we were hearing from our membership and from our student athletes.

SBLive: In Southern California, I'll use football as an example, say someone moves to Colorado or Florida like we've seen, to play in the fall. Then they come back to California in December and they have the valid change of residence. They then try to double up on their football seasons. That's not allowed, correct?

Nocetti: Yeah. Our rules are really simple. You get one season of one particular sport per school year. So yeah, you wouldn't be able to do that. And that's been the rule all along.

SBLive: Is there any concern about getting the necessary amount of officials ready for when sports return? Because, A: there's a global pandemic and B: the seasons are condensed, so maybe referees who double dipped in the past wouldn't have that option?

Seymour: Yeah, that's a huge, huge issue. It's always a big issue because finding officials can be tough in a normal year, you then factor in that the average age of our officials is above 50, that will most likely give them some pause about whether or not they want to come back. But from what we have heard initially, many of our officials' associations are steadfast in their desire to provide qualified officials for the games. I believe strongly that because our culture desires athletics and for our student athletes to have the opportunity to have athletics, we may very well see a large new crop of officials that want to give back to the sport and become involved. So I guess at this point on the 20th of July, the good news is we have a couple of months to really start to begin that process and encourage people to get out there and become active members in our associations. So at this point, we're looking forward to those possibilities. But, yes, absolutely. It was something that was discussed quite often.

SBLive: What's the general financial situation with the CIF right now? If sports have to be eliminated like we saw in the spring, how bad will those consequences be for the CIF financially?

Nocetti: I can speak to that on the CIF state office front because the Sections are all different. I know a lot of them are dependent upon revenue. I can say the one thing that all of us will say is that decisions aren't going to be made with respect to finance. They are being made with respect to the health and safety of our student athletes. I'm extremely appreciative to our leadership over the years and this goes back to our nine member executive committee. That's our state governing board, as well as our federated council. They've been very prudent with our finances over the years making sure we have a healthy reserve so that in times where the economy is down, we would be OK and we could get through it. And we will get through it.

We obviously want to have state and regional championship events for our students and for the financial health of the organization as well. But if we were not to have the events at the state or regional level this year, we will be able to make it through.

SBLive: What's your advice to athletic directors who are going to have to figure out how to evenly distribute facility time under this new calendar, which could be a challenge?

Nocetti: I can tell you that that's what athletic directors do. Athletic directors adapt and adjust on a daily basis. Obviously, they've never experienced it like this. What's been really great to see over the past several weeks are the comments coming down from superintendents, principals, athletic directors and our coaches saying we just want to know the plan. And once we know the plan, we are all going to work together to make this plan come to fruition on behalf of our student athletes. And they're going to do that. I know our schools are doing everything they can to continue to maintain and give our athletic administrators the time necessary to do this. I know that a lot of people would look and say, well, there's no fall sports, but the fall is going to be spent by all these athletic directors planning like they have never planned before for December and January.

SBLive: What happens if a player or coach tests positive for COVID-19 when sports return? From a state perspective, how will you guys respond? Is it on the district to respond? Is it on the school? If that happens when athletics return, what will the result be?

Nocetti: We're going to continue to have conversations in the fall with our sports medicine advisory committee to look at plans. We just saw a re-socialization plan released by the NCAA. Obviously, they have the ability to do some things with testing that the high schools don't necessarily have, but we actually have seen in Iowa, they play baseball in the summer time. And so they've already had high school baseball and they've said they have seen some teams that have had positive tests. I think they said about five percent of their teams, which if you look at the CIF, five percent could be almost 100 schools that would experience issues. And so they've either quarantined the player or in some cases quarantined the entire team.

I hope by the time we return we're going to know a lot more about the virus and what needs to be done when those things take place. Think of how much more we know now compared to what we did in March.