Palo Alto prepares to play De La Salle for their CIF Northern California Division I first-round boys basketball playoff game at Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, Calif., on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. The new Peery Family Center opened last year. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
A new pathway to indoor sports in California could come through a settlement with the state, the attorney who filed suit over youth sports in San Diego County told a group of Bay Area basketball coaches Monday evening.
Stephen C. Grebing, the managing partner of Wingert Grebing of San Diego, said on a Zoom call with the Bay Area Basketball Coaches Alliance that he had received a settlement offer from the state “with almost everything we wanted” in response to an equal-rights case brought by a pair of football players in San Diego County. Grebing said the settlement would apply statewide and allow all sports to compete under the same reopening tier.
If agreed upon, the settlement would overrule local health orders, Grebing said, which could potentially pave the path to indoor sports in every county in California with an adjusted case rate below 14 per 100,000. Outdoor sports were given the green light at that threshold last month.
On Friday, Grebing also has the final injunction hearing on the case in San Diego, which will determine whether the initial favorable ruling is permanent. Already, all sports have resumed in San Diego County with athletes getting tested beforehand, Grebing said.
Return-to-play advocates have filed similar lawsuits in San Francisco, San Mateo and Contra Costa counties, as well as a number of others around the state. Grebing said the judge in Contra Costa County could view their case favorably. A win outside of San Diego County would “make it legitimate,” Grebing said.
“If I can get it done Friday, then the negotiation’s going to end,” Grebing said. “I don’t think they can take the risk of continuing to lose cases. If we get one win outside of San Diego, I think other counties are going to wake up.”
Frank Knight, the boys’ basketball coach at Moreau Catholic, said he didn’t think there was any chance for a season prior to the first meeting of the basketball coaches last week, which Grebing also attended.
“After hearing (Grebing) talk, I went to open my office up for the first time in like 340 days,” Knight said. “He makes a very compelling argument.”
Outside of the legal arena, the coaches alliance also hopes to generate similar pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom as their predecessors did for football and other outdoor sports. They have also partnered with Let Them Play CA, which has helped gather data on coronavirus spread from indoor sports in other states, organizers said. The initial survey results showed favorable data, they said, but did not provide details.
Chris Lavdiotis, who helped form the basketball coaches group and helms the boys’ team at Miramonte High, said he wasn’t initially in favor of bringing back all sports but safely conducted workouts have brought him around.
“I’ve really changed my views on how safe it is to get kids together and play sports,” Lavdiotis said. “At Miramonte, we’ve been bringing kids together with masks, and they’ve been enjoying the hell of it.”
The coaches said they will approach the state about an April 5 start date for basketball, which they said would allow for a 10-week season before the June 12 end date for all sports mandated by CIF. There are other guidelines to be negotiated, like a mask mandate during play, Lavdiotis said.
“Are we willing to say we’ll play with masks on? We need to be united on this stuff,” Lavdiotis said to the coaches, who numbered close to 50.
There could be other scheduling complications, such as finals testing, spring breaks and last days of school, the coaches said.
Officiating adds another layer of complication.
Dave Cutaia, who assigns officials games in Contra Costa County, said there had been “not one mention” of officials in communications from the CIF. He said many are willing to show up in a mask but had received little direction. There are also “people who are not going to work because of COVID,” he said. One association that typically staffs 200 officials had just 35 signed up, he said.
There’s been talk of cutting basketball teams back to only varsity and one sub-varsity team or having all three levels compete on the same day in the same gym to conserve officials, Cutaia and the coaches said.
“There could be times when games need to be moved because of a lack of officials,” Cutaia said.