Northern Section Reconsiders Sports Calendar Decision

The CIF-Northern Section is reconsidering its earlier decision to stick with a traditional fall-winter-spring athletic calendar and may join the rest of the state in a two-season calendar beginning at the end of the year, a key section administrator said Friday. 

Scott Fairley, the AD, cross country and track coach at West Valley High in Cottonwood and a member of the Northern Section Executive Committee said decisions are maybe a month away but that the fall season would not begin before October as it stands today.

Fairley, who has been coaching in the Northern Section since 1980 and has played host to both the cross country and track and field section finals for 35 years, said local health authorities have not cleared the way for competition beyond the summer, despite a 14-county section that has had comparatively minimal impact from the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

In an exclusive interview with MileSplitCA, Fairley outlined the challenges of finding an acceptable universal solution in a section of mostly small, rural schools in a geographically diverse region of roughly 300 miles north-to-south and 200 miles east-to-west. 

On Monday, the CIF State office announced the framework for a revised 2020-21 athletic calendar that condensed three seasons into two beginning in January and running through late June. Most of California's 10 CIF sections followed with adjusted sports calendars that aligned with the State's framework. The Northern Section, however, initially indicated a desire to stay with the traditional fall-winter-spring format although that would mean forfeiting the opportunity to compete in State level playoffs. 

In the interview, Fairley explains the many reasons why that decision made sense for Northern Section athletics. He then explained why that plan is no longer in place. 

"We had talked about starting as soon as possible," Fairley said. "But since that time -- all of this is predicated on our local county health departments approving competition. They have approved summer conditioning ... but competition has never been approved.

"This past week we had our superintendents going to the local county health departments asking permission for competition. At this point, most all of those health departments are saying no competition at all. They're going to follow the state health department guidelines that restrict any kind ... especially team sports and contact sports, at this point.

"At this point we're starting to have to back off of what our original plans were."

Fairley said cross country, originally scheduled for a late August start, now won't start until at least October if not January with the rest of the state. 

"Some of the coaches that are concerned, cross country in particular, saying 'We'd love to be able to take our kids to the state championships and if we (compete) during the fall time period, we won't be able to attend the state championships in cross country.' So we're having some pushback from that group as well.

"Personally, as a cross country coach, participating in the wintertime would probably be the best option for us here in the Northern Section. Our heat up here is horrible during this time of year. We're practicing in over 100 degree temperatures in the valley parts -- maybe not the mountain schools -- the bigger schools are in the valley and it's extremely hot. We'd prefer to be running in rain than 100 degree temperatures."

Check out the full interview to learn more about the challenges the section has with team sports going forward, why splitting sports seasons for a particular sport isn't uncommon in the NS, and a bit about life in the NS during COVID-19.