Duane Morgan’s days as Central Coast Section commissioner are numbered.
Just ask him.
“Not that I am counting,” the retiring administrator said Tuesday. “But I’ve got 41 days.”
Pat Cruickshank’s time as North Coast Section commissioner, in some ways, is just getting started. But during two years in the section’s San Ramon office — the first as an assistant commissioner — the former basketball coach/athletic director has pretty much had the kitchen sink thrown at him. (Remember the wildfires?).
Morgan oversees a section that extends from parts of San Francisco to King City. Cruickshank’s jurisdiction stretches from the southern end of Alameda County to the coastal side of the Oregon border.
They preside over hundreds of schools, including most that call the greater Bay Area home.
Nothing they have done through decades of coaching, administrating and, in Morgan’s case, officiating, has loaded their plate quite like the coronavirus pandemic — largely because neither can answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind:
When will high school sports be back?
“They want an answer right now and they’re just not going to get it,” Cruickshank said.
But both administrators remained hopeful as they addressed several coronavirus-related talking points this week with Bay Area Preps HQ, such as how things stand going into summer, the financial impact of no spring season, transfer flexibility and contingency plans if COVID-19 delays or wipes out the fall schedule.
Here is what they said:
Could football be played as late as next spring if there is no fall season?
Morgan: “No, I don’t think so. What we’ve been talking about here in the office and a little bit with other people is let’s say fall doesn’t happen at all. If we move football into the winter, we move cross country into the winter and we move water polo into the winter, that leaves basketball, wrestling and soccer along with those three sports. Then move the other ones into the spring. It might make a little more sense because then you’ve got girls and boys tennis together, girls and boys golf together, girls and boys volleyball together. That’s one plan. But I am sure there’s going to be a whole lot of stuff happening if fall doesn’t happen.”
Cruickshank: “We have thrown out many, many different scenarios and they go from changing the start date based upon when we can start, how late could we go with the start of our fall season and still have a season that is meaningful and is good for our students. We’ve talked about sports moving into different seasons. I don’t know that football in the spring is something that is a possibility. I just think that there’s a lot of scenarios we’ve looked at, and we’ve gotten a lot of suggestions from our member schools and coaches. And I really appreciate all that. If you were to give me a date tomorrow, I could probably, within a 24- or 48-hour period, roll out a calendar and say, ‘OK, this is where we’re going.’ But nobody knows that date.”
What are you telling your schools at this point?
Cruickshank: “We’re meeting consistently now as section commissioners throughout the state. We met last week. We’re going to meet again next week. But it’s pretty clear amongst all of us that we’re just not quite in a position where we can tell our schools anything, simply because we haven’t really been given a green light by our state, haven’t been given a green light by the government to go ahead and do this. Our health professionals haven’t said it’s OK to do it. I know some counties are lightening restrictions a little bit. Some counties aren’t. We’re in a unique position in our section in that we have so many counties and we’re spread out so much. We’re probably going to have different things going on in different counties. I met with about 75 athletic directors last week and talked with them, and I told them that they just need to be patient. Control what you can control.”
Morgan: “We’re so reliant upon the governor, the health department, superintendents in some regard. We’re trying to keep them up to date and let them know that we’re planning for a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C so we can get this done if we can.”
What is the financial impact that coronavirus has had on your section and have you applied for government relief?
Cruickshank: “It is a huge impact. We lost all of our spring income. We’re sitting here with some — not all because we were able to stop some of it — but we’re sitting here with a lot of spring merchandise that says 2020 with the sport on it that we’re trying to unload. But it doesn’t seem like a lot of people want to buy it. But the good news is we do donate that, the things we don’t sell we’ll be able to give to people in need. So that’s kind of a cool thing. We did apply for a small business loan and we did receive it, so we’re able to cover our staff for eight weeks through the paycheck protection plan. That will kind of sustain us through the fiscal year and so hopefully things get back up and running in the fall.”
Morgan said the CCS is in a similar situation as the NCS: “Last year, net revenue from spring sports for us was $143,000. So you can do the math. We’ve been putting money away for a rainy day such as this. We can get there. Fall sports is a net of $235,000. I know that because I just did a report for the board. That’s a pretty significant hit that not too many organizations can absorb. Financially it’s one of the necessities here. But if it doesn’t happen, we’re going to have to have a Plan B.”
Given the financial hardship some families are experiencing, will there be more transfer flexibility if a student has to transfer from a private school to a public school?
Cruickshank: “Absolutely a work in progress. We talked about it on our last commissioners’ conference call. We’re going to continue to work through that process. Nothing is set yet. But it is something that we are working on because we know that there are going to be some families that are impacted by this. We want to make sure that we make this as seamless for them as possible.”
With many districts going to a credit, no-credit grading model for the spring 2020 semester, how will that affect academic eligibility in the fall?
Morgan: “We’re seeing what the districts are doing, but also the state offices, working with legislators to try to figure out how we can most benefit the kids, most benefit the districts that have implemented credit, no credit, pass-fails and things like that. We don’t want to ever put a kid in a position where they weren’t able to gain access to learning to be penalized to play sports. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes workings, even up at the Capitol building. I know (CIF executive director) Ron Nocetti is working on stuff with this. It’s a good thing trying to figure this stuff out for us.”
What is the best-case scenario for the return of high school sports?
Morgan: “Best-case scenario is we get our first practice started by Aug. 7, our actual date. If we get that, we’re going to be OK. Now, again, there’s a lot of people who will have a lot of decisions on how we get there. I can’t imagine anything worse (than the current situation) except not having sports at all — ever. At least with the fires, we could sort of mitigate things. We got creative. Boy, there is not a lot of wiggle room here.”
Cruickshank: “The best-case scenario is to start sports Aug. 10 (sections have different start dates) and we’re off and running. And this time next year we’re talking about our spring championships, and I can have a full year in this office without any hiccups. Maybe we have to start a little slowly. But getting kids out on the courts and out on the fields, it’s so important to their mental state. I know people say we’re never going to have normal again. I’m not so sure. I hope we’re in a position where we’re back to normal and kids get an opportunity to have the great experiences that all of us had.”
What do you tell the Class of 2020, which lost so much this spring?
Morgan: “We all feel for them. We’ve all been there, knowing how much it is to have fun on the field of play. But they’re resilient. They’re a great class, and we know that this is going to make them stronger, and I wish them the best of luck.”
What does Morgan’s successor, David Grissom, think about all this?
Morgan: “Oh my God, he says, ‘Duane, what did I get myself into?’ (Laughs). Hey, you know what, he’s a good guy. He’s smart, and he’s going to do well here. He loves sports. He loves being around kids.”
The NCS has a COVID-19 FAQ on its website. Look for it here.
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