The New York State Public High School Athletic Association alerted athletic directors Tuesday that the start of the “high-risk” winter sports season is being pushed back to Jan. 4.
It was originally set for Nov. 30 statewide, but Section 3 delayed all of its winter sports to Dec. 14.
Low- and moderate-risk sports in Section 3 are still on track to begin Dec. 14.
High-risk winter sports include basketball, wrestling, volleyball, ice hockey and competitive cheerleading.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Health still have ultimate authority in deciding whether high-risk winter sports can compete interscholastically. Those restrictions are set to last through Dec. 31, but could still extend past that date.
In a press release, NYSPHSAA president Julie Bergman said, “NYSPHSAA’s leadership recognizes the numerous challenges interscholastic programs are experiencing and the obstacles associated with resuming high risk sports.
“While it is certainly the goal of the Association to provide all students with the ability to participate in interscholastic athletics, we must remain steadfast in our decision to ensure the safety of our athletes is our focus.”
With cases in New York State rising, albeit at a slower rate than in the spring, the Governor’s office suggested in a recent conference call with reporters that a decision on high-risk sports could be a ways away.
Postponing the start of the winter season for high risk sports to Jan. 4 allows the state association and state officials more time to make a decision and evaluate the current trajectory of the virus.
“Keep in mind that we were originally supposed to start on Nov. 16, then we postponed until Nov. 30 and now today’s announcement further pushes high risk sports to Jan. 4,” NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas said in a press conference. “The reason why Jan. 4 is, it gives us more time to work with state officials as they examine and analyze their metrics. Hopefully we’ll get authorization at some point during the month of December to begin on Jan. 4.”
Zayas described the Jan. 4 start date as arbitrary since New York State and the state DOH have to authorize high-risk sports before any school is prohibited to compete in them.
That authorization is currently not high on the state’s list of priorities, something Zayas acknowledged during his press conference Tuesday.
“I think that one of the things that I’ve really tried to stress and I’ve stressed it in past press conferences that I’ve had is that we understand that state officials are extremely busy,” Zayas said. “And they’re inundated with issues, challenges and obstacles associated with the COVID crisis. So, we are being patient and we are cognizant of the fact that there is a priority list and at this point in time, high school sports are not at the top of the priority list and we can certainly understand why.”
According to Zayas, there is an “open dialogue” between the NYSPHSAA and state health officials, but that ability to advocate for the authorization of high-risk sports is hindered by the fact that New York’s infection rate is continuing to rise as the nation faces a third phase of the virus.
Part of what makes the future of high-risk athletics harder to predict is the fact that there is no required criteria. Sections with lower infection rates are not any more likely to play high-risk sports than sections with higher infection rates.
“There has been no criteria that has been provided to us, the NYSPHSAA, there has been no metric that we need to attempt to achieve in order to get the OK or get the authorization,” Zayas said. “I think much like we’ve seen the past eight months with each passing day and each passing week, different types of data are being analyzed by state officials and we’re hopeful that we eventually get to a point where our state officials determine that it’s OK, it’s appropriate and it’s safe for high-risk sports to be given authorization to start participating.”
This is an obvious cause for frustration among many in New York who have seen high school football being played in places like New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Zayas urges for those critics to keep in mind New York’s current standing with the pandemic compared to other states.
“As we look at what other states are doing, we need to be cognizant that our state officials are examining their own set of metrics and they’re examining the data as they see fit,” Zayas said. “That’s why we have some of the lowest infection rates in the entire country.”
According to Covidactnow.org, New York has 23.1 cases per 100,000 people while Pennsylvania has 39.7 per 100,000 and New Jersey has 40 per 100,000.
If and when the state deems high-risk sports safe to play, individual school districts will have the last call. It’s no guarantee every school district will dive right back into athletics, particularly those indoors.
“I want to emphasize that, there are some sections right now and there are a lot of schools where it’s just not possible to start the winter sports season whether it be on Nov. 30, mid December or even in January at this point in time,” Zayas said. “So, I think we have to realize that there will be some school districts and some sections that it’s not feasible at this time to begin low, moderate or high-risk — if authorization is eventually granted.”
On Sept. 13 Frontier League schools thought they were better off playing their low and moderate-risk fall sports during the Fall Sports II season.