Hopes to hold a fall 2020 high school sports season in New York took a setback last week as the NYSPHSAA Covid-19 Task Force pushed back the starting date by nearly a month.
In addition to delaying the start of fall sports (and official practices) from Aug. 24 to Sept. 21, the NYSPHSAA (New York State Public High School Athletic Association) made a contingency plan to move the fall season into 2021 as part of a condensed season with winter sports, followed by fall and then spring.
The NYSPHSAA also canceled its regionals and championships, meaning any potential fall season — whenever it takes place — would end at the sectional level.
Other changes included waiving the seven-day practice rule, maintaining current practice requirements and encouraging geographic scheduling for events. As of last week’s school reopening guidance from the state, interscholastic athletics are still not allowed.
If sports are still on hold by the restart date of Sept. 21, or if fall sports are later interrupted, then the NYSPHSAA would move to its condensed 2021 plan. The tentative dates: Season I (winter sports) from Jan. 4-March 13, Season II (fall sports) from March 1-May 8 and Season III (spring sports) from April 5-June 12.
With these seasons overlapping by two weeks from Season I to II and nearly a month from Season II to III, many coaches, parents and athletic directors have raised concerns over making a choice between say, basketball and football, or playing volleyball or softball.
“THE 2021 condensed season is very complicated,” Salamanca athletic director Rich Morton said. “There’s no way in the world they could run that because everything overlaps with each other. All our kids play multiple sports. They’d be involved with one sport and then the other season starts, how are they supposed to get the minimum number of practices in for any particular sport they’re playing?”
NYSPHSAA executive director Dr. Robert Zayas addressed the resistance to overlapping seasons under the condensed, all-in-2021 scenario.
“IF NEEDED, overlap in potential condensed season format would be a concern; dates are tentative,” Zayas tweeted Friday. “Season 3 could end in late June & consideration for 8/9 week seasons, rather than 10 is a possibility; overlap would then be reduced. We will focus on what is best for kids.”
Zayas also noted in a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday that the NYSPHSAA would not require a student to choose one sport in overlapping seasons, comparing it to some students playing soccer and football in the fall or basketball and wrestling in the winter.
For athletic directors, who like to get their schedules done, including for buses and officials, well in advance, the one-month delay raises some questions that need clarifying.
“There’s no clarification yet on anything,” Morton said. “It was based on whatever the committee was that got together. There’s a lot of questions. Do we follow our regular season schedule? Are we going to just play league games or what’s the playoff situation? Of course there’s no state playoffs or regionals, so will there be a sectional tournament then?
“It doesn’t look promising for things to happen (in the fall), especially with the climate of what’s going around the country right now. Things are escalating, they’re not subsiding ... it’s very confusing to know what’s going to happen because there are too many ifs.”
ALTHOUGH Morton sees some drawbacks to starting the fall season in late September, such as cold weather impacting outdoor sports like soccer and tennis if they play into December, his concerns sit mainly with the condensed 2021 scenario.
“You look at the logistical nightmares of how in the world are you supposed to hold any practices,” Morton said, “when everybody’s going to want the gym, they’re going to want the fields, there’s too many things that can happen scheduling-wise that would be an absolute nightmare trying to organize something like that. If you think about bus schedules and officials and venues, to me it’s going to be like an absolute chaotic mess.”
But Morton recognizes some decisions are out of the NYPSHSAA’s hands until the state makes a decision on interscholastic sports.
“They can’t make any decisions until Cuomo comes out with new guidelines and everything’s driven by the health department,” he said. “At this point, everything’s like wait and see. Wait for this to happen before this can happen. Kids can’t have any workouts, they haven’t been able to do anything to get ready for the season unless they’re doing it on their own.”
Morton hopes, if fall sports can’t begin in September, the NYSPHSAA would reconsider the dates of its condensed plan.
“That would be my hope, that they come up with some solution where things are not overlapping,” he said. “And why does it have to start in January if they cancel fall sports and we don’t have that, can they start those condensed seasons in say December, where the winter teams could get their practices in and then be ready to start the first day we come back from vacation. Or, some of the dates they have, why don’t they extend it to the end of June because that’s how long we’re in school?”
“I wish I had the crystal ball to know what’s going on, but I think if you talk to any coaches or any ADs, you’ll certainly get the same answer, that the condensed season will not be a solution to this.”