Lingering unhealthy air leaves football playoffs in limbo

By: Mike Ray
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With lingering unhealthy air generated from smoke from the recent Camp Fire near Paradise hanging over a vast region of Northern California, officials from several different CIF sections spent most of this past week coming up with contingency plans to try and complete their respective section football championships.

And, everyone is still in a state of limbo to what is happening and what may happen.

Because of the unhealthy air, the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section has already scaled back its cross-country championships to just varsity only. Meanwhile, the CIF state office has cancelled its complete girls tennis and state water polo championships.

But it’s the football playoffs, although just small potatoes compared to the destruction and death that the Paradise area has endured from the Camp Fire, that leaves many questions still unanswered.       

First, this football season, the CIF state start date for games was moved up a week to Aug. 17 for Zero Week. The start of the season made it possible for the CIF state office to schedule its regional games for Nov. 30–Dec. 1 and its championship games for Dec. 7–8.

The earlier schedule was partly done to end the football season a week earlier and give athletes that play winter sports an earlier date to join their teams.   

However, two Northern California sections, the CIF North Coast (East Bay, Santa Rosa and Eureka areas) and the Central Coast Section (San Jose, San Francisco Peninsula and Santa Cruz areas) did not start their football seasons until Aug. 24. This was feasible for those sections because they only need three playoff weekends to complete their eight-team brackets.

Meanwhile, the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, with the announcement by the state that the regional games (Dec. 7–8) and championship games (Dec. 14–15) would be moved back a week, found itself with some wiggle room to postpone its semifinal games slated for this past Friday and move them to Nov. 23–24.

The CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championship games are now set to be played Nov. 30–Dec. 1.

Getting back to the CIF North Coast Section, which has not completed its quarterfinal games yet, this past week, Commissioner Gil Lemmon gave section playoff teams in Divisions II-V the option of moving games to Eureka, which currently isn’t affected by the poor air quality, or be ready to settle state qualifiers by a coin flip.

Given the choice to play in the Eureka area or not complete their playoff brackets, most of the North Coast Section football teams in Divisions II through V chose to remain at home with the main reason being the many schools being out the week for the Thanksgiving holiday and cost for travel, estimated at $4,000, would have been too high.

For the CIF North Coast, the quarterfinals will now be played at originally scheduled sites Nov. 24, a date that does not give the section enough time to complete the brackets in those divisions before the Northern California regional Dec. 7–8.

The North Coast Section will use head-to-head results to determine which finalists move on. If the teams did not play this season, a coin will be flipped to break the tie.

In the CIF Central Coast Section, five sites were tagged to host tripleheaders that were slated to be played on Saturday to complete that section’s quarterfinals. Games were set to be moved to Santa Cruz, Pacific Grove, Salinas and Watsonville where the air quality is better than in the Bay Area.


As far as the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section is concerned, if unhealthy air continues into next week, the section would have a decision to make whether to just complete the section’s semifinal and final rounds and not send teams on to the regional or state level.


“It’s something that we’re definitely trying to be prepared for,” said CIF Sac-Joaquin Section assistant commissioner Will DeBoard. “It’s supposed to rain this week so that may help the air. But the health and safety of the athletes comes first.”