The Desert Empire League has decided to only count the first two rounds of league play toward its league championships and playoff seedings, ending the league season after 10 games instead of the full 15 games.
The decision came Wednesday as more and more games have been postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests and close contacts, meaning it would be too difficult to make up all those games and play the still-scheduled contests.
The change applies to boys' and girls' basketball and boys' and girls' soccer. Ironically, the six-team league was playing a 15-game season for the first time ever, so a reduction to 10 games with every team playing every other team twice is similar to how the league has always been.
This move follows a similar decision made by the eight-team Desert Valley League earlier this month, which decided to play just a seven-game league season instead of 14.
For Desert Empire League teams, Thursday would've marked the 11th game of the league season or the first game of the third round. However, throughout the four sports, 22 of the 120 total games have been postponed. That's about 18.3%. Of the 24 teams involved, only the Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage girls' basketball teams have completed all 10 scheduled games. The other 22 teams still have games to make up.
"There were situations arising where certain teams were going to have to play four times in a week to complete their schedules, and we felt like that just wasn't safe," said Michael Ventura, the principal and former athletic director at Palm Springs High School. "So the athletic directors put it to a vote today."
The final day of the regular season for Desert Empire League teams was to be Feb. 3. Teams will now use the time between now and then to make up any games they still haven't played from the first two rounds. Teams can also choose to play games against each other and even play games against out-of-town teams if they deem it to be safe, to maintain a level of competition before the playoffs if they so choose.
This change does not affect wrestling, which will hold its league meet Saturday at Palm Desert, or girls' water polo which plays one game against every team in the league and finishes with a carousel tournament.
So with the new framework in mind, let's take a look at where the four league races stand:
Current standings: Shadow Hills 9-0, Palm Desert 5-2, Palm Springs 6-3, La Quinta 2-5, Rancho Mirage 1-6, Xavier Prep 1-8.
Analysis: The Knights are officially the 2021-22 Desert Empire League champions. They are unbeaten with just one game left and can not be caught. The Aztecs and Indians are comfortably locked into the top three spots and the playoff bids that come with them.
Current standings: Shadow Hills 9-0, Xavier Prep 7-1, La Quinta 5-4, Palm Desert 4-6, Palm Springs 2-6, Rancho Mirage 0-10.
Analysis: One of the unplayed games is the big one as Shadow Hills still needs to play at Xavier Prep. With a win in that game (and a win against Palm Springs), the Saints can claim a share of the league title. That game is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 1. La Quinta has locked up the third spot.
Current standings: La Quinta 4-0-3, Palm Springs 5-2-2, Xavier Prep 4-3, Palm Desert 4-3, Shadow Hills 1-5-1, Rancho Mirage 0-5-2.
Analysis: While the basketball races had a clear top three, soccer is a different story and playoff bids are still to be fought for as four teams battle for the top three spots. The Blackhawks are unbeaten and in first, but still have three games to play as do the Saints and Aztecs, who are currently tied for third. A lot left to decide as boys' soccer has the most games still to be played out of the four sports with eight.
Current standings: Shadow Hills 7-2, Palm Desert 6-2-1, Palm Springs 4-2, Xavier Prep 4-5-1, La Quinta 4-5, Rancho Mirage 0-9.
Analysis: Five of the six teams are still in the running for a top-three finish. The Knights and Aztecs can not fall out of the top three, but the league champion is still in doubt. There are five games left to be played and Palm Springs is in four of them. Should be a wild finish.
Shad Powers covers high school sports for The Desert Sun. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Desert Empire League reduces league season from 15 games to 10 for basketball, soccer