While the offseason outlook for team workouts remains murky amid the COVID-19 pandemic, area high school football teams overwhelmingly opted into starting their regular seasons a week earlier.
Following a rule approved by the NYSPHSAA on May 27 to expand the football season by one week, schools had the option to add a game in “Week 0,” a week before the originally scheduled season-opener. In schedules released by Sections 5 and 6, all New York Big 30 football schools but one plan to play on Sept. 4 or 5, the new opening weekend.
The Week 0 matchups include two inter-Big 30 matchups. Wellsville is set to play Bolivar-Richburg for the first time since 2017, visiting B-R on Saturday. On the same night, Salamanca is set to play Allegany-Limestone for the first time since 2016, at A-L.
In other Big 30 Week 0 matchups, Portville visits Eden/North Collins and Cuba-Rushford hosts Canisteo-Greenwood on Friday, Sept. 4. Saturday’s games include Olean at Hornell, Clymer/Sherman/Panama at Pioneer, Randolph at Cassadaga Valley/Falconer and Cattaraugus-Little Valley at Chautauqua Lake/Westfield/Brocton.
FOR B-R coach Steve Smith, Wellsville was a natural non-league addition to the Wolverines’ schedule. The schools plan to alternate home games in 2020 and ‘21.
“We were encouraged, for all classifications, to try to schedule this Week 0 within Section 5; Wellsville is a perfect fit for us,” said Smith, who serves on the Section 5 football committee. “We would not see them due to our schedule being (we’re into federation scheduling now), where D schools play D schools. So this was a great opportunity to play them.”
Smith admitted he’s not sure how ready his team will be in mid-August, when practices are set to start, given the uncertainty around team activities during the pandemic, especially with football listed as a “higher risk” sport in NFHS coronavirus guidelines.
“I think it’s what our state needed and it’s what we really pushed for as a football committee, to get that extra game,” Smith said. “Now that being said, with the circumstances being what they are and getting no guidance to this point from New York state, it just makes it really difficult. We can’t get together to work out, we can’t run (the) weight room, we can’t run 7-on-7; anything the kids are doing is on their own.
“Boy, I’d love to say everything is going to be fine come September, but on the other hand, the way things are going, I don’t know. If we can’t get together and work out as football programs, to expect us to jump right in in August and be ready to roll, that’s really going to be difficult.”
SO FAR, only one New York Big 30 team has opted against the Week 0 regular season game. Franklinville/Ellicottville instead plans to scrimmage on Saturday, Sept. 4, as teams typically did in advance of opening weekend.
F/E coach Jason Marsh said he felt scrimmaging Springville would give his team a better chance to prepare for the season after just 10 practices.
“From our standpoint, we didn’t feel that given the situation, what kids are going through right now, that 10 days or 10 practices was going to be enough to make sure we have our kids physically ready,” Marsh said. “And we didn’t want to commit to a game, because as of right now, we don’t even know what summer workouts are going to look like. We don’t have access to our players right now.
“As of right now we can’t get together as a team, so we’re a little concerned with the conditioning. We thought we’d play it safe, at least this year, to put ourselves in that Week 0 situation in more of a controlled situation, where we’re not putting someone at risk for an injury or something because they’re trying to push themselves too hard in a game-like situation. So I think from our standpoint we’re looking at it from the safety point of view.”
Marsh acknowledged F/E’s plans could still change later this summer.
“If things change throughout the summer and we feel we can get access to our kids and things like that then maybe that would change,” he said. “But at this point we’re just trying to play it on the safe side.”
Marsh said he supports the idea of a longer football season under different conditions.
“The more games the better,” Marsh said. “I would love to play that game. We would just feel more comfortable if the circumstances were a little different. If the state is going to allow us to play more I don’t know why they don’t just let us start (practice) a week earlier. So we can still have that scrimmage. And let’s play 9 games, we’re all for it. In other states they play more games. So let’s start earlier and let’s play more games. I would love for that to happen. But I just want to make sure our kids are ready.”
OLEAN COACH Phil Vecchio said his team’s opening game sprung from the Huskies’ tradition of scrimmaging Hornell in what is now considered “Week 0.” Vecchio said playing the Red Raiders, a traditionally strong Class B team that won state three titles from 2009-11, should give his team a “great test.”
“We’ve scrimmaged Hornell for 30-something years. That’s always been our scrimmage,” Vecchio said. “And their coach reached out and said, ‘Listen, this is the way it’s looking and I want to give you guys the first option to play.’
“I guess at the end of the day I didn’t want to be left out in the cold where everybody else was playing and I couldn’t even find a scrimmage. We went ahead and did it.”
While Vecchio said he’s always nervous about Week 1, those concerns are compounded by the pandemic, acknowledging he would prefer to add a regular season game to the end of the season, rather than starting a week earlier. But Vecchio hopes under Phase 4 of New York’s reopening, the Huskies can hold limited workouts later this summer.
“Our fingers are crossed,” he said. “We’ve checked with the health department. When kids come into the weight room we have to keep it to 10 at a time. We have to take their temperature, we have to record them. We’ll be wiping down the weights after they do it and there will be Germ-X and everything else all throughout the complex.
“Obviously, the health of all the kids is the most important thing. I think everybody is itching to get the guys together and try to build some kind of camaraderie.”