May 27, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Q&A part 2: CIF Commissioner Rob Wigod says return of sports an ‘achievable’ goal

Rob Wigod is in his ninth year as CIF commissioner. (Photo courtesy CIF Southern Section)

(Second of two parts)

CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod knows first-hand the importance of high school sports and is hoping to play a key role in their return.

Wigod, in his ninth year as commissioner, said he is doing all he can to help with the return of high school sports in the fall. High school sports have been on hold since the coronavirus cancelled spring sports. In the first part of an interview with OC Sports Zone, Wigod outlined what it will take for sports, including football, to return.

Here’s part two of our interview:

How important is sports to athletes and to the communities?

Wigod: It’s the classroom outside the building where they learn so much about things they will use for the rest of their lives: hard work, teamwork perseverance, working together on goals that they all agree they want to achieve and working with others who are different colors, different races, different religions, speak different languages and are from different socioeconomic circumstances, all of those things that the athletic experience does for students. I believe in that so strongly in all the years I’ve been involved. It’s something that is just so special but the fact that it’s gone, I would hope people would realize how special it is as well and they will appreciate it more when it comes back and it’s kind of always been there and maybe taken for granted, the work that coaches, athletic directors and principals and the media and the CIF and the officials do. Everybody involved in this puts so much into it because they know how great it is and how important it is and maybe the fact that it’s gone and we miss it so much and love it so much, that maybe when it does come back, there will be a heightened sense of what it really is and it is something that is truly to be valued and something we want to celebrate and keep moving forward.

What has been the financial impact on the CIF and high schools?

Wigod: We were hurt significantly by the cancellation of spring sports. We were projecting potentially maybe a $300,000 shortfall for the school year. We were having an excellent year. Our football attendance for fall sports football, girls volleyball, boys water polo and cross country and all our fall sports had excellent attendance, a real bounce back. We’ve had some declining attendance the last couple of years. Not this year. The fall was excellent, our winter was good, we had real good basketball. We had good soccer, girls water polo and boys and girls wrestling. So we were off to a really excellent year and then by cancelling spring sports, it hit us pretty significantly. But with a lot of hard work and some sacrifice and some great work by our staff, we are projecting from that $300,000 potential shortfall that we may break even this year and maybe even have a little bit on the good side. Our schools on the other hand, probably saved some money this spring. Spring sports are not revenue generators. The fall sports and winter sports that do bring in revenue pay for the spring sports. The reality is hopefully they did save some money because they weren’t paying for officials and transportation and several thousands of dollars that normally spring sports would cost them.

As we go forward, certainly financial conditions are going to be really important and the news coming for our schools is not great about budget cuts and things that are going to be coming their way. Certainly for us, we are a non-profit, we start with zero dollars every single year and have to raise upwards of 4.75 to five million dollars a year. Our ability to do that is tied to how much we’re able to come back and we’re able to do along with our corporate partners and our television and web partners and all the other ancillary things that help us in the revenue situation and keep our costs down for schools. There is a lot to think about moving forward but I certainly don’t want anybody to believe that decisions are made with finances first. It’s health and safety first. If that means there are no fans and no revenue, then it’s no fans and no revenue. It’s about doing what we do and the rest of it will have to work itself out. We return over one million dollars in playoff revenue each year to our schools and return $150,000 in television and web rights and we do a lot of giving back. We’re partners in this together and hopefully the financial picture for all of us will be better moving forward once we’re able to bring sports back.

Talk about the new CIF football playoff system that was passed:

Wigod: We’re very excited about that and really appreciated the mandate. You saw the vote, it was overwhelmingly in support which to me is showing there is faith and confidence and trust in competitive equity playoffs in general over the three and a half years we’ve had it and the notion and understanding that we’re going to improve it and we said it from the very beginning there were better ways to do it…. and we wanted to explore using current regular season results in our sports and football is going to be the first up in doing that and we believe it’s the best and most accurate way of ranking teams and formulating divisions and conducting championships with the most accurate way we can do it. We’re very much looking forward to it. It will guarantee every playoff team entry into the playoffs. There will also be room for at-large teams in every division.

Is it possible that system could be used for other sports such as basketball and baseball?

Wigod: Could be and that’s where football is going to take the first go at it and other sports are paying attention and are looking for the same kind of thing. There is a difference in terms of data. You’ve got to get the data and get every score of every game and input it into your system so you can do accurate power rankings. With one football game a week, it’s much easier to collect all of that data that we have to have and that will be the challenge for the basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball and baseball that play many more games. But it’s part of changing the culture.

Please explain the ruling on the Sunday cheerleading proposal:

Wigod: The Southern Section has passed a proposal to allow a one-time exception for cheer teams to compete on a Sunday and the exception is for one particular event in Orlando, Fla. which is considered the national high school cheerleading championships. It will now move forward to the state CIF federated council; they will consider it for a first reading in October and be voted on January 2021. If it passes it can be implemented the following year 2021-22 where any school in the state of California that went to that competition and was scheduled to compete on Sunday would be allowed to do that.

CIF lacrosse playoffs were scheduled this past year; talk about that:

Wigod: We were very disappointed. We had great anticipation for our first ever boys and girls lacrosse championships. We were conducting those with three divisions for boys and three divisions for girls. Unfortunately that was taken away from us, but we’re going to be all systems go and all ready to go to hopefully bring them back in 2020-21 and we will focus on making that happen when the time comes.

You’ve indicated good sportsmanship is important; talk about the new ejection rules:

Wigod: We’ve made a great statement in the Southern Section … We’ve put in stiffer penalties for fighting and assaultive behavior. There have been really unfortunate incidents where the entire teams get involved in bench clearing incidents and we hope this is a very, very strong deterrant. We hope before anything gets close to something like that happening, everyone is aware of how stiff the penalties are, between three to six games. But unfortunately if it does happen, we’re making a statement that it is a significant issue here and there are going to be significant penalties for students who engage in this kind of activity and hopefully we will never have to implement it. If we do, we’re prepared to do so I and think it’s the right statement to make. It will be for all sports.

Is there a set time when the issue of the return of football and fall needs to be resolved?

Wigod: We’re going to be meeting (state and CIF commissioners) on June 9. We’ve been meeting pretty regularly already. This is just me personally, I would like to make sure that whatever it is we announce is in terms of a calendar going forward or if it’s not a particular calendar moving forward, then I want us to identify what is the calendar going forward … If we can make fall sports happen, that’s our focus and we want to make it happen. If we can’t, I think we need to make one definitive decision on when it would happen in terms of fall, winter and spring sports for 2020-2021 and that way we can go from one scenario to another and get started versus kind of a moving needle where every month or so we have to evaluate whether this can happen or not. I think we need to be real definitive on when this is determined so that we can give our schools and everyone as much time as possible to prepare and make sports and the resumption of sports as seamless as we can make it. It’s going to have challenges: scheduling issues, facilities issues, multiple sport athlete issues but I still am heartened by the fact I think everyone wants this. I truly believe that. Our schools want this, all those connected with our schools want it, we want it and as long as everyone is on that same end of the rope trying to make everything happen for the young people we’re fortunate enough to serve, we can deal with those things and deal with the different elements that will come to play because we’re focused on what we all want which is to bring back what we love to do.

What is your message to the student athletes who are waiting for a decision?

Wigod: I would tell them to stay focused, stay connected and have hope and faith that those folks in charge of the decisions that directly affect you think about you all the time and care about you and want this to be as good as it can for you and what we need is for you to stick with us and give it a chance for when the time is right we can bring it back to what you want. And that’s not easy for them, but they have to know what the goal is and know that the goal is achievable and the one thing we don’t need is to start stirring off the path academically and in terms of connections with your teammates, your coaches and people in your life who matter. We need to keep you on the right path and I have faith that if we can deliver for you, it’s all going to be worth it. So stay with it, get through it and hopefully there will be a day when you can look back at it and be really proud of what you achieved because you learned a lot and you came through.

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com