The first game of the new football season has yet to be played, but nine area high school teams already have been penalized for false starts by the Sac-Joaquin Section, with some of the disciplined programs facing six days of lost practices.
Del Oro, El Camino, Inderkum, Lincoln, Oakdale, Placer, Sacramento, Whitney and Woodcreek violated a new summer full-contact guideline established by the section to help protect athletes’ health.
Coaches from each school said they understand that safety is paramount in an era of heightened concussion awareness as the CIF mandates reduced full-contact practices for each week. But the coaches also expressed disappointment and anger over what some deem a “gray area” of what is allowed in summer team camps. Some said summer camps for prep football teams might cease following these sanctions.
Offseason full contact is prohibited in CIF bylaw 1901.B, the result of California’s AB 2127, enacted last summer in an effort to curtail an alarming rate of concussions and head injuries. The law’s sponsors said nearly 4 million high school students nationwide suffer head injuries each academic year in various sports. Twenty states now prohibit offseason football contact.
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The local teams that were sanctioned engaged in team camps in June at Del Oro, Placer and Sacramento State – each school believing it was following the law and each inviting CIF representatives to attend sessions and/or review film. Every coach was aware camp sessions were being videotaped, including by rival coaches stopping by for a peek. Section commissioner Mike Garrison said he went over hours of film, occupying much of the summer, and he conferred with “a lot of people on this to determine what was fair.” He ruled that the teams will be docked practice days ranging from two to six days, depending on the severity of contact drills, to be completed by Sept. 30. The penalties stem from the section’s longstanding “2-for-1” precedent for practice violations.
The forfeited practices sting, coaches said, because they are valuable sessions in preparation for Aug. 28 season openers.
CIF rules mandate that teams must have 10 practice days before competing in legal, full-contact Aug. 22 scrimmages. Stripped practices must be served on weekdays.
Area coaches also said they don’t want to be viewed as rogue programs, skirting rules to get an edge.
Coaches attending the Del Oro camp went over paperwork, which stipulated no tackling before starting competition. The gray area, coaches said, was the line play. In short, players were allowed to engage on the line of scrimmage and then stop. Running backs were allowed to be grabbed but not tackled.
A contact sport with no contact renders the decades-long camp concept pretty much useless, coaches said.
“I don’t get it,” said Del Oro coach Casey Taylor, clearly upset. “I went to a bunch of CIF meetings on what was allowed in summer camps, and I talked to a lot of people before we held our camp to make sure we were clear on what we could do. We had a great camp. Everyone thought they were doing it right. No one got hit hard. No one got hurt. We weren’t hiding a thing.
I don’t get it. I went to a bunch of CIF meetings on what was allowed in summer camps, and I talked to a lot of people before we held our camp to make sure we were clear on what we could do. We had a great camp. Everyone thought they were doing it right. No one got hit hard. No one got hurt. We weren’t hiding a thing.
Del Oro coach Casey Taylor
“We wanted CIF people to come by. We wanted to be a guinea pig example of how to do a summer camp. We weren’t cheating, trying to get an edge. I feel like this hurts our character, and that’s not fair because we do things right.”
Garrison said coaches were not trying to bend rules but that they clearly didn’t understand all of them. He applauded coaches such as Taylor, who volunteered camp film. But Garrison said he had to “make a stand.”
“No coaches blatantly said, ‘Forget the rules,’” Garrison said. “They all made the effort and tried, and I contemplated all of that. None are rogue programs, but we were forced to make a decision. Rules were broken. If we don’t do anything, then it sends a message of, ‘Oh look, we can do what we want.’ I got the sense that the coaches were trying to do the right thing, but when the rubber hit the road, the right thing wasn’t done. I understand their frustration of, ‘Now we’re getting hammered?’ Well, it’s a matter of interpretation.
None are rogue programs, but we were forced to make a decision. Rules were broken. If we don’t do anything, then it sends a message of, ‘Oh look, we can do what we want.’
Mike Garrison, Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner
“On some film, you can see linemen driving guys downfield or a player crack-blocking. That is not the intent and the spirit of the rule.”
Garrison said being “the bad guy comes with the job,” adding, “we’re painted into a corner and now we have to react. I wanted to come out strong, with a stance that this is serious.”
Placer coach Joey Montoya hosted a free three-day camp with an emphasis on team bonding and sportsmanship. The participating schools – Inderkum, Placer, Oakdale and Sacramento – each were stripped six practice days. This means no contact between coaches and players, and no weight-room sessions, conditioning, study hall or even a team lunch or dinner.
“That makes it really hard when you’re trying to get your team ready for the season,” Montoya said. “We thought we were within all the rules. We told Mike Garrison that some kids hit the ground, and we took them immediately out and instructed them that everyone is supposed to stay up. We tried our best. It’s very frustrating. We hope we can appeal.”
Garrison said schools can appeal. Montoya and Taylor said they don’t know how they can pull off camps in the future.
“I don’t know about the future of summer football camps,” Garrison said.
Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said he stopped sending his team to team camps last summer, not wanting to deal with the confusion.
“We were looking to do our own camp, but there was too much, ‘Can’t do that, or that, or that,’” Richardson said. “I understand the safety issue, but it’s hard to do things at half speed. I finally thought, ‘It’s a complete waste of time. I’d rather hit blocking bags and sleds.’ You can’t go wrong there.”