LATHAM — The New York State Public High School Athletic Association decided to delay the fall sports season to Sept. 21 and cancel the 2020 fall state regionals and championships at the recommendation of the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force, which met for the third time Thursday.
The NYSPHSAA also developed plans for a condensed season starting in January 2021 if athletics are prohibited for the remaining of 2020.
The officers of the NYSPHSAA also decided to waive the seven-day practice rule, maintain current practice requirements, encourage geographic scheduling for games and contests, schools would have the option, if permitted by state officials, to offer off-season conditioning workouts.
The condensed schedule would begin with the winter season on Jan. 4 and run to March 13 (all dates are tentative). This would include boys and girls basketball, boys and girls bowling, gymnastics, boys and girls ice hockey, boys and girls indoor track and field, boys and girls skiing, boys swimming, wrestling and competitive cheerleading.
Since wrestling and cheerleading are considered high risk sports, they could be moved to a later season.
“Season II” would consist of fall sports that would tentatively run from March 1 to May 8. This would include football, boys and girls cross country, field hockey, boys and girls soccer, girls swimming, boys and girls volleyball, unified bowling and girls tennis.
“Season III” would consist of spring sports that would tentatively run from April 5 to June 12 and include baseball, softball, girls and boys golf, girls and boys lacrosse, boys tennis, girls and boys track and field and unified basketball.
Each season under the condensed plan will be 10 weeks long. The spring season would end by mid-June due to the regents exam schedule and graduations.
SEPTEMBER 21 DELAY
The NYSPHSAA followed suit with many athletic associations/conferences in the country by delaying the beginning of their fall season. The fall season was originally set to begin on Aug. 24.
The decision is coming after additional guidance on schooling was handed down by the New York State Department of Health on July 13. It is stated that “Interscholastic athletics are not permitted at the time of publication and must only operate in accordance with forthcoming State-issued guidance.”
It is still unclear whether schools will open with in-person learning, virtual learning or a hybrid of the two — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he’ll be making that decision between Aug. 1-7 — but the NYSPHSAA wanted to get ahead of what will be a different schooling experience come September.
“It is also based upon the fact that schools are being challenged with how they’re going to reopen and to add another element of interscholastic competition to that competition, we felt as an association that represents member schools and (about) 600,000 student athletes, it’s in the best interest of our member schools and our student athletes to take a pause,” NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas said in a Zoom press conference. “Allow schools to reopen, make sure students are able to take care of academics first and foremost and then at that point integrate and implement an athletic program.”
Before any official plan from the NYSPHSAA can be put in motion, Zayas stated that interscholastic athletics need to be permitted by state officials and a plan for schools reopening need to be determined.
There is no hard deadline when it comes to determining whether or not the sports will begin on Sept. 21 or in January. The NYSPHSAA is trying to be as flexible as possible so it can adapt to whatever further guidance or school decision comes down from the state. Many scenarios remain possible.
According to Zayas, if sports were to begin on Sept. 21, they could theoretically go 15 weeks and lead into the winter season.
“I think with the decision just being made (Thursday) morning by the officers of the association, we have to be aware that September 21st is the new start date for fall sports, but we also have to be flexible and we have to willing to absorb all of the information, examine all of the information that is being presented and examine the guidance that is being provided by state officials,” Zayas said. “Today, September 21st is the start date and if that doesn’t work out, then for all intents and purpose we’re starting on January 4. Again, with permission and authorization by state officials.”
There still remains the possibility that low-risk sports could be played in fall with other typically fall sports being played in the spring. However, that is also a decision that would be made based on instruction from the state.
“Hypothetically, and I think we’re in a whole time period of talking about what ifs, if we were to be given the green-light for low-risk, non-contact sports in the fall, could we potentially have cross country, and tennis and girls swimming but not be able to host soccer, field hockey, football and volleyball? That’s probably likely a scenario that could happened and if it did that would be a catalyst for going to the condensed season model to preserve those four fall sports that would not be able to be played at this time,” Zayas said. “I think you could see a situation where we could have a few low-risk sports in the fall, but still utilize the condense season model to be able to provide those opportunities for those fall sports athletes.”
Zayas estimated that 198,000 student athletes participate in fall sports in the state.
At the heart of the condensed seasons proposal is Zayas’ goal to give every athlete an opportunity to participate in sports in the 2020-21 school year.
It comes with plenty of downsides, though — as every proposal does — the biggest being the overlap in seasons, possibly requiring multi-sport athletes to pick which sport to play and which sport not to play.
“It’s certainly not a good situation,” Zayas said. “I’ve already seen things on social media and that seems to be one of the biggest criticisms on what could be a condensed season format. But the main goal is to give the opportunity to participate for every student athlete in every sport. Will choices have to be made? Unfortunately, that is probably going to have to take place, but I think that is a much better alternative than students having to be told, like we did back in March, that their season is completely canceled.”
The NYSPHSAA does not determine whether athletes can participate in two sports per season, that is up to each of the sections.
The largest overlap comes between Season II (fall sports) and Season III (spring sports). Season III would begin on April 5 while Season II wouldn’t end until May 8 making for about a four-week overlap. Season II would begin on March 1, which, Zayas said, is the earliest that season could begin.
If interscholastic sports are not permitted for the remainder of 2020, and the condensed plan proposed by the NYSPHSAA task force is enacted, Zayas said there is a possibility for state championships to still be played.
“I think everything is on the table right now,” Zayas said. “If there is an opportunity to provide a culminating event at the end of a condensed season, then I think our association would be very interest in providing that opportunity for students. But right now, it’s probably too early to tell if that would be a possibility.”
WHAT CAN, CAN’T BE DONE
Zayas confirmed all restrictions on interscholastic athletics remain the same as they did before. No school sanctioned workouts are permitted.
This has created some frustration considering youth sports and other non-scholastic athletics have begun popping up in towns across the state.
The NYSPHSAA does not have any control over youth sports and can only operate under the guidance the state gives for schools and interscholastic athletics.
“At this point in time, interscholastic athletics, by the guidance we were provided on Monday, is basically on hold. That’s according to the New York State Department of Health,” Zayas said. “Now, that pertains to school districts hosting those types of programs. What’s taking place in the youth space, from what I’m told, is being permitted. But again, there is a differentiation between high school interscholastic and youth, and we received guidance from the Department of Health pertaining to interscholastic and we really just need to realize that in this point in time, interscholastic sports are on hold and we’re waiting for further guidance to be able to know when we can resume activities.”
While schools are prohibited from holding official workouts, practices, camps or other conditioning events, teammates throughout the state have come together, off of school property to work out on their own.
Zayas urged that these players continue to practice all the safety measures that we are expected to practice in our everyday lives. The date of the next NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force meeting is yet to be determined.