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Scheduling puzzle pieces continued to move Wednesday as North Coast Section officials postponed and rescheduled the Division 2 water polo championship game to Thursday just after creating a backup plan for football and tennis brackets if air quality woes continue to force the postponement of games.

Smoky skies and unhealthy air quality from the deadly fire in Butte County have wreaked havoc on postseason sports schedules, with games being continually pushed deeper into the traditional playoff calendar.

In a special meeting convened by teleconference Wednesday, NCS executive committee members voted on a plan that would determine which teams advance to the NorCal playoffs should NCS competition become impossible to complete in current air quality conditions and time constraints.

Officials voted 7-0 to declare no section champions in football, tennis or water polo if championship games cannot be played. In a second vote, the committee agreed to use head-to-head records to determine which team advances to the NorCal playoffs if a section championship game cannot be played. If the two teams have not played each other or if they have split their games evenly, a coin flip will determine which squad advances.

That scenario should not affect the Division 2 championship water polo game Thursday between No. 3 seed Cardinal Newman and No. 4 seed Terra Linda after the game was moved to Berkeley High School’s indoor facility. The game is slated to begin at 4:45 p.m.

The ripple effect from schedule changes and delays to competition is now affecting the state calendar. CIF officials announced Tuesday that the NorCal water polo championships will now be played Friday and Saturday. The state football championship was also pushed back, to Dec. 14-15.

The contingency plan for football agreed to Wednesday has the potential to affect a number of Redwood Empire teams still in the playoff hunt.

Graham Rutherford, dean of student life at Cardinal Newman, and the Cardinals’ football coach, Paul Cronin, as well as Rancho Cotate assistant principal Henri Sarlatte, called into the special teleconference meeting to support a proposal that would have allowed the team with the higher seed to automatically advance to NorCals if a championship game cannot be played. Kelseyville football coach Erick Larsen also called in to support that proposal.

All three teams are the top seed in their respective divisions — Rancho Cotate in Division 2, Cardinal Newman in Division 3 and Kelseyville in Division 5.

Instead, an alternate proposal was floated to give the go-ahead to a team if it has beaten the other in a head-to-head matchup. If the teams have not played each other, a coin flip will decide who advances. That proposal was passed by the executive committee on a 5-2 vote.

Sarlatte argued the rankings made by a seeding committee prior to the playoffs and based on strength of schedule, records and other factors should carry weight if a game cannot be played.

“I think we have NCS (seeding) committees for a reason,” he said.

But he also noted the difficulty of the situation affecting so many schools and communities.

“I would also add it’s a very tough decision,” he said. “I don’t begrudge anyone.”

Rutherford said seeds are based on what teams have done on the field and should be valued.

“Nobody wants to win by coin flip,” Rutherford said.

“Or lose by a coin flip,” Cronin said.

Cronin, who like other area coaches has adjusted his practice schedule in recent days, said he was pushing ahead with the intention that all three remaining section games will be played.

There was some discussion during the meeting about the standards used to determine air quality and when student-athletes should and should not be allowed to compete. Officials and representatives from schools within the section expressed frustration over the wide range of air quality index measures being referenced as games and practices are continually postponed and canceled.

NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon defended the process.

“We are not relying on one, we are looking at multiple sites,” he said of the data being used to determine whether events can continue. “This is a North Coast Section event, it’s not a school event. My belief is it’s the decision of NCS staff whether we proceed or not.”

The NCS cross country finals — a qualifier for the state meet on Nov. 24 — are slated to be run Saturday in Hayward. While the CIF pushed its football schedule back one week to accommodate the changes in the section games being played, it did not change the date of the cross country meet in Fresno.

It was unclear Wednesday what would happen to area runners and their ability to qualify for state if the section meet is not run Saturday.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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