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Kincade fire's impacts have prep football teams scrambling once again

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With several high school football games canceled or in jeopardy due to fire-related concerns, North Bay League administrators crafted a plan Tuesday to finish the abbreviated regular season fairly and help playoff-bound teams, while keeping safety paramount.

A 90-minute conference call with 28 representatives from the 12 schools in the NBL Oak and Redwood Divisions resulted in an agreement on how divisional titles would be awarded if they can’t be settled on the field.

And all but a few schools expressed the desire to play their final games this week, either Friday or Saturday, if they can find practice venues and game sites.

Still, the final week of regular-season games remains up in the air, given the fluid nature of the Kincade fire itself, changing evacuation orders, whether schools have electricity and fields are playable and whether athletes are even available to play after evacuating.

It’s the third consecutive year North Bay schools have been forced to work around scheduling issues caused by fires in Northern California, from the Tubbs fire in 2017, to the Camp fire last year and the ongoing Kincade fire still burning uncontrolled in northern Sonoma County.

After last year’s unsatisfying coin flip that ended Cardinal Newman’s Paradise fire-abbreviated North Coast Section playoff run, the league wanted to avoid a similar end.

Windsor High School administrators proposed a points system to declare which NBL teams would win their respective divisions.

“It’s a remarkably easy plan,” said NBL Commissioner Jan Smith Billing.

The proposal takes into account the different number of games some teams will have played by the end of the season on Saturday.

In both divisions, the current leaders would win according a formula that awards two points per victory, divided by the number of games played to account for the different number of contests completed.

Cardinal Newman, at 3-0 in the Oak Division, and Piner, 3-0 in Redwood, would win the titles.

Tuesday’s proposal modified an initial scoring plan that would have simply given points for each victory, not accounting for unequal game numbers. That could have shuffled the standings and meant an undefeated team might not have won the league title.

Newman missed out on a game last week when Santa Rosa City Schools canceled its game with Maria Carrillo, and its game with Analy isn’t certain this week, so it could only have three league games out of a possible five.

At the same time, second-place Rancho Cotate, which did play last week, is set to play Ukiah. If Rancho wins, the Cougars would be 4-1. If the 3-0 Cardinals didn’t play again, Rancho would have won the title despite Newman being undefeated in league.

Piner and Santa Rosa are scheduled to face off in the Redwood’s final divisional game this week, which could determine the title. Piner is 3-0 and Santa Rosa 2-0.

The Panthers would win the title with a victory. But Piner, 9-0 overall, wants the chance run the table in its best season in more than 15 years and earn an automatic NCS playoff bid with a league championship banner.

“We’re waiting for the district to approve the Santa Rosa-Piner contest in a different location that is safe for everyone,” said Piner athletic director Marc Anderson. “We’re trying to make that game happen if at all possible.”

Piner and Newman administrators pushed hard to find ways to settle the league titles on the field rather than by an artificial means like last year’s coin flip, a math calculation or an unfortunate forfeit.

League titles, league records and overall won-loss records are among the many criteria the NCS seeding committee consider when assigning rankings for section playoff berths. The committee meets Sunday to create the playoff brackets.

Several schools — Newman, Rancho, Santa Rosa, Piner and others — were concerned about how their records would look to the committee, compared to other schools that likely had a full 10-game schedule.

Games not played last week will go down as “no contests,” meaning no team is penalized with a forfeit in its won-loss record for a game not played because of fire concerns.

Administrators also gained support from most schools to do whatever possible to play this week’s games. Teams need two days of practice before games, and Saturday is the last legal day for games, according to NCS rules.

Healdsburg, Montgomery, and to a lesser degree Maria Carrillo, Santa Rosa and Piner worried that they may not be able to practice at all or enough to make Friday or Saturday games possible.

But Rancho Cotate administrators offered a potential solution.

“If need be, we propose a varsity jamboree here on Saturday,” Rancho athletic director Henri Sarlatte said.

“We have power and we are not in an evacuation zone. The air quality should be better by the end of the week. We can hold varsity games all day Saturday,” he added.

The Cougars offered their facility in Rohnert Park for practice and games for anyone who needs it. Several administrators expressed interest.

Details on this week’s games will be finalized in the next two days as schools explore whether they will be able to gather their teams and hold practices.

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