Column: Let’s offer ideas to help make high school sports better

A mostly empty Golden 1 Center in Sacramento with the electronic billboard reading "Welcome to CIF Basketball"
Golden 1 Center in Sacramento is home to the state basketball championships.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

The end of the school year makes it appropriate to review, evaluate and offer observations on the state of high school sports in California. Whether leaders in charge like it or not, they need to hear suggestions and feedback, good and bad, from people without fear of retribution, so let me take a shot.

There have been absurd rumors of private schools wanting to form their own media networks outside the CIF, similar to what Notre Dame does at the NCAA level. Others want to keep challenging the line between education-based sports and the alternative, driven by people who want to be part of national championships and are seeking to make a buck with fewer rules in place. Good luck and goodbye if that’s what you want.

It’s a tricky time. Club sports remain integral in the college recruiting game, if not more important than ever. Private coaches and “scholarship hustlers” keep seeking greater influence, because that’s how they make money. They’re in competition with teachers and school-based coaches. Lessons learned can be the exact opposite of what is taught at schools, and parents don’t care as long as it leads to a free college education. There are some exceptional private coaches who should be embraced and others who should carry a sign, “Beware.”

So who is going to fight for the CIF to remain relevant and worthy, and what changes or protections must be maintained? That’s where administrators, coaches, players, parents and even sportswriters need to be encouraged to offer ideas, solutions and heartfelt criticism to improve an environment that must not be allowed to look anything like the chaos and wild-west atmosphere of the college sports experience.


Let’s begin with some topics that need to be addressed:

Curbing illegal recruiting

We don’t know for sure because the CIF waved the white flag of surrender years ago with rule changes and legal settlements so it would stop getting sued. Section offices don’t accept anonymous allegations and proving recruiting requires a high bar, so everyone assumes it’s happening. What can be done? It goes back to what was mentioned here earlier on how the City Section is cracking down. Multiple transfer students to the same school involving the same sport should trigger a visit from the section office to review paperwork. It’s an easy fix to restore credibility around the state. It’s pure laziness when a section office can’t devote attention to a matter everyone wants addressed when recruiting is illegal in its bylaws.

Leveling the playing field on exposure

Just as football coaches travel to colleges and other high schools looking for new ideas, schools need to seize the opportunity to empower their own students as broadcasters, leading to greater exposure. Multiple schools are streaming games. Anyone who wants to learn how to do it can make a call to Harvard-Westlake, which has a network for a variety of sports with students announcing, producing, interviewing. Nothing can excite a community more than showcasing students acting like adults, and the initial cost isn’t as prohibitive as some believe.

Relying on the NFHS Network to broadcast games is hit and miss, particularly for playoffs. Coverage of the state track finals on Friday was supposed to start at 5 p.m. The only information shown was, “This event has been delayed.” A technical issue with the internet wasn’t resolved for 59 minutes of missed events. It’s embarrassing and something the CIF shouldn’t tolerate for one of its premier events. Spectrum no longer wants to broadcast certain state events as part of an $8-million, 15-year deal that ends in 2026. The CIF needs to find a reliable partner, even if it means turning to students.

Saving small schools

The competitive equity revolution, in which teams play each other regardless of enrollment or geography, is here to stay, but how do you keep small schools involved before they decide they have no chance and give up? The CIF might need to create a separate small-schools division for state competitions.

Finding a home for live scoring results

The CIF signed a contract with SB Live right before the pandemic in 2019 with the understanding it would provide live scoring access throughout the state. It never happened. The contract was renegotiated to bring back MaxPreps as a co-digital provider. Then SB Live changed its focus away from providing scores to college recruiting, videos and story writing. MaxPreps, even with years of familiarity in California, hasn’t been able to pull it off either because schools have to provide the personnel and information on their own.

GameChanger is the closest to giving fans the chance to monitor events live as teams in baseball and softball use iPads to keep score and let fans watch with streaming video. Now the Southern Section is trying to develop an app to make it simple for schools to input scores since the Southern Section is switching to using the most up-to-date data to place teams in playoff divisions. Accurate, fast information will be key to moving forward. If the new app works, the state hopes to follow. “We’re looking where all the information can be found in one place,” CIF executive director Ron Nocetti said.


Creating competitive equity in playoffs

The Southern Section and City Section are headed to having most of their sports playoff brackets created by using computer algorithms based on the current season instead of placing teams in divisions based on previous performance. It’s the way to go with a caveat. The Southern Section is allowing each of its sports to develop its own criteria, so there must be transparency and education so everyone understands what specific data are being used. Schools that don’t post their scores could be denied playoff participation.

Managing rising ticket prices

The Southern Section is expected to increase ticket prices. The Southern Section Council has given its approval. Did anyone consult with parents? Families are hurting and many parents are working multiple jobs. If it prevents them from watching their kids play, it will be a big mistake. At championship venues, parking was $15 for one basketball championship with general admission $24. The Southern Section receives no revenue from venues charging for parking, and the cost needs to be a factor when deciding on a venue. There comes a point when too much is too much.