The New York State Public High School Athletic Association decided late Wednesday afternoon to postpone football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading (high-risk sports) to the spring.
The start date for the “Fall Sports Season II” will be March 1, 2021. The NYSPHSAA has also decided to push back the start of the spring season to April 19, 2021.
The move comes as competition for football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading remains prohibited by New York State. The season for all low- and moderate-risk fall sports is scheduled to start Sept. 21.
All fall sports, with the exception of football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading, are still expected to move forward with that timeline.
The NYSPHSAA clarified during a Zoom call with media on Wednesday night that high-risk sports are allowed to hold offseason workouts following Sept. 21, as long as they abide by the state Department of Health’s guidelines for high-risk sport activity.
The news of the postponement was first reported by Marisa Jacques of Spectrum News Albany/Hudson Valley on Twitter at around 6:30 p.m. Soon after, a memo was sent out to athletic directors stating the postponement.
In that memo, NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas said, “We’ve spent two days speaking to nearly 500 athletic directors across the state and it’s clear that administering high-risk fall sports during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a significant challenge for our member schools. These are unprecedented times and unfortunately, difficult decisions will have to be made to address this ongoing crisis.”
It was unclear if competition within high-risk sports for this fall were ever going to be approved by the department of health. No additional guidance from that department was issued to the NYSPHSAA and the only time frame the state association had was that a decision would be made by the DOH before December 31, 2020.
“Once we released the return to interscholastic athletics document on Friday evening, we scheduled various Zoom meetings with sections throughout the state,” Zayas said to reporters in a Zoom call. “What we found was that students are being subjected to having to make decisions, and there’s an awful lot of concern about the high-risk fall sports. So, with that being said, we had to make the decision to go ahead and move the football and volleyball seasons to March in an effort to listen to the concerns expressed by our member schools in those Zoom meetings that we hosted.”
Even though the NYSPHSAA decided to move high-risk fall sports to the spring, there is no guarantee that they will be able to begin on March 1. High-risk sports will still need to be authorized by the Department of Health.
“I think we have to understand how many challenges and how many obstacles our schools are facing right now, it’s not just about interscholastic sports,” Zayas said. “They have a tremendous challenge ahead of them and we want to support them in any way that we can. And if this decision today can provide a little bit of relief for those student athletes to ensure that they know that we’re thinking of them and we’re trying to address their concerns in order to provide them a quality season in March. Also, to allow our schools to understand that we’re listening to their concerns and I feel like we accomplished that today.”
If high-risk fall sports can begin their seasons on March 1, they would need to hold the required amount of practices prior to playing a game. For football, 12 practices would be required and if the 7-day rule is not waived, the first game would be played near mid-March.
One of the biggest concerns of wedging a second fall season between the winter and spring seasons is the overlap it causes. Under the current plan outlined by the NYSPHSAA on Wednesday, the “Fall Sports Season II” will begin on March 1 with a NYSPHSAA-recommended end date of May 1 — the end date, however, is up to each section to determine. But by ending on May 1, there would be only two weeks of overlap between fall II and spring sports. This is down from the four weeks of overlap that occurred in the original delay-to-spring plan proposed over the summer.
Whether or not student athletes will be allowed to participate in two sports at once remains up to each individual section.
Pushing back the end of the spring season is also a possibility.
“We have to be flexible, if we’re going to give these students an opportunity to participate, we have to be flexible and we have to continue to examine and exercise as much as we possibly can,” Zayas said. “Right now, the spring sports season is scheduled to conclude sometime in mid-June. If there isn’t a Regents exam, or we can work with the state education department and our school superintendents, there may be an opportunity to extend later into June. But that’s all yet to be determined.”
On the other end of the fall II season are winter sports, which if state championships are played or the winter season is delayed, could also overlap with the beginning of high-risk fall sports. Zayas clarified that basketball, ice hockey and wrestling are deemed high-risk sports by the Department of Health and therefore must follow the same guidance handed down for fall high-risk sports, meaning no competitions. The winter season is still scheduled to begin on November 30.
“I think that it’s a day-by-day decision and a day-by-day process,” Zayas said of guidance specifically regarding winter and spring sports. “I don’t think we can look too far ahead. We’re working on a daily basis as this situation develops, I mean we work on behalf of almost 600,000 student athletes, we truly understand the responsibility. We’re trying our best to get as much information distributed to our member schools as soon as possible on a daily basis.”
Section 10 executive director Carl Normandin said that the section has not set a final meeting date yet with superintendents and athletic directors and that schools are reviewing the NYSPHSAA document and going through the details before making a final decision.
Once a decision is made about if sports will be played, as well as which of the 24 Section 10 schools will take part, then Normandin can go about producing schedules.
“I would say it would be by end of the month for soccer, cross country would probably be at end of the (decision) week,” he said.
A swimming schedule could take more time because four of the nine schools that participate do not have their pools available due to work being done on them and they also need someone from the Department of Health to approve them.
In a normal athletic year Normandin makes the division schedules and coaches fill in their own nonleague games.
If all 24 schools opt to participate this year then Normandin plans to stick to divisional schedules. If some schools opt to not play, the schedules may have to be juggled so everyone gets in enough games.
As for the postseason, Normandin said Section 10 would have an “abbreviated playoff.” Malone and Massena are the only two Class A teams, so they would meet. Classes B and C would feature only semifinals and a final and Class D would have just eight schools participating in soccer playoffs. There are no state playoffs for fall sports this year.
Massena has the most active COVID-19 cases in St. Lawrence County and school officials volunteered last week to conduct online-only learning until Oct. 13. Normandin said because that was a school choice it would be up to the district officials to decide if they want to play sports or not once practices begin.
Times sportswriter Cap Carey contributed to this report.