WATERTOWN — The Watertown Red and Black will have to wait a little longer before it can make another run at a championship. The Empire Football League announced early Monday morning that it will be canceling the 2020 season due to the dangers related to COVID-19.
In a press release, the league stated that “with teams spanning multiple states, a plethora of ever-changing rules/protocols and constantly shrinking time lines, we made this decision with mixed feelings of pride and sadness. Pride because as leaders we know that we did right thing for players, coaches, officials, sponsors, and fans of the Empire Football League. Sadness because the responsibility of being a good leader has brought us to this ultimate decision to postpone 2020 season.”
The EFL was supposed to have nine teams participating in the league this year: the Red and Black, Hudson Valley Mountaineers, Glens Falls Greenjackets, Utica Nighthawks, Plattsburgh North Stars, Northern New York Grizzlies, New Jersey Stags, Syracuse Smash and the Tri-City Spartans.
The decision to cancel the season comes after the league held a meeting Saturday with all the teams’ owners to discuss how to navigate around COVID-19.
However, the risks of playing outweighed the benefits.
“One of the biggest obstacles was that you have the governor’s definition of reopening, which is then interpreted by local communities, and there are a whole bunch of things that they want to see and it all gets down to liability,” EFL commissioner David Burch said. “Nobody wants to be in a situation where they cause something, it all points to them. Plus, a lot of these new requirements that are being levied, that people are going to have to meet, it’s just too hard.”
The meeting with owners lasted about an hour and it became quite clear that a season wasn’t feasible. It will be the last meeting the league will hold until its annual meeting in January. The decision to cancel the season has shut down the EFL for the rest of 2020.
“The bottom line is, why should we proceed with this risk,” Burch said. “When before, all we had to worry about was playing a football game.”
Burch noted how the availability of playing fields is also a concern for teams, considering many of the teams in the EFL play at high schools or colleges.
The decision to cancel the season comes a little less than two months before what would have been the first games played. The Red and Black’s opener was July 4.
Red and Black head coach George Ashcraft has remained committed to following the protocol outlined by the government and sees no reason to risk the safety of players, coaches and anyone else involved.
“I won’t even cross that bridge, it’s not even a question I can answer, it truly isn’t,” Ashcraft said about the possibility of holding practices this summer. “I can’t see getting a bunch of people together.
“We’ve called it a season, and I don’t think that’s going to change unless there was a vaccine that we could take tomorrow.”
If a season was to be played, it would have required many precautions to be taken in every game played.
“Things like, no showers, sanitizing the ball, social distancing in the stands, on and on and on, those things are all new and they weren’t going to go away,” Burch said. “Like we always say, what’s your return on investment for going through all of this? You’re just adding risk to yourself personally and for what?”
Five of the eight New York based EFL teams, including Watertown, reside in areas that have begun phase one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reopening plan. Activities such as arts, sports and education won’t be open until the region has reached phase four of the plan. If that happens during the summer months, teams that are located in those regions could technically hold organized practices, since the EFL does not control that aspect of team operations.
Burch said, “I was waiting for the governor’s reopening guidelines that came out Thursday, because you had to have a basis for some kind of requirement, and we got that. And we already scheduled a meeting on the 17th, we always meet on the 17th every year any ways to meet with the officials and coaches to go over rules, so everyone already had that on their calendars so I figured it’s the best way to do it, to draw a line in the sand, and we had some data to start working with.
“The league has suspended operations and we canceled the season, the individual teams can do whatever they want to do on their own, it’s just not under the banner of the Empire Football League,” Burch said. “Obviously, we don’t want that liability.”
While it remains a possibility when the regions reach phase four of reopening, the safety of the players, coaches and all involved of any organized practice then falls on the teams, not the league.