The start of the fall sports season will be delayed until Monday, Sept. 21, and there will be no regional or state championships this fall, the state organization in charge of public high school sports announced Thursday, July 16.
The officers of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association made the announcement in a media release. The group is also preparing to implement a condensed season schedule in January if high school sports remain prohibited throughout 2020 because of COVID-19.
The decision came at the recommendation of the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force when it convened as a working group for the third time Thursday morning, the release said.
“As the state considers reopening, it is unrealistic to believe athletic seasons can start on Aug. 24 as originally scheduled, NYSPHSAA President Paul Harrica said in the release. “The priority will continue to be on the educational process and a return to learning in the safest way possible.”
The NYSPHSAA decision also included waiving the seven-day practice rule, maintaining current practice requirements, encouraging geographic scheduling for games and contests.
Schools will have the option, if permitted by state officials, to offer off-season conditioning workouts, the release said.
“We recognize this is challenging for everyone, but the decisions made at the state level are based upon data and statewide infection rates all in an effort to stop the spread of COVID and reopen responsibly,” NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas said in the release. “At this time, Department of Health guidance presented on July 13 prohibits interscholastic athletics across the state. The association will continue to follow state guidance and will work collectively with state officials to ensure high school athletics will start up responsibly in the future. As an association, we must be willing to be flexible and continue to explore all options with students’ safety as our main focus.”
At the discretion of the NYSPHSAA officers and authorization from state officials, if the fall sports seasons are interrupted or impacted by COVID-19 crisis (i.e. state official guidance, school closings, cancellation of high-risk sports, etc.) then a condensed seasons plan will be implemented, the release added.
While the decision means fall athletes will have to wait four extra weeks to potentially compete in seasons not including most postseason play, two area athletic directors are viewing Thursday’s announcement with some positivity.
“This way, there’s still some hope. We can hope there is still something,” Unatego athletic director Matt Hafele told The Daily Star. “If we’ve learned anything, dating back to March, the state is going to try and hold out. We are pretty thankful that the group they’ve assembled is willing to do that. That would be my message.”
Oneonta athletic director Jerry Mackey imparted similar sentiments.
“It’s not a home run win, but I’m hopeful most people, coaches, parents and athletes will view it as as hopeful victory to keep the chance alive for everybody,” Mackey said. “It gives us a chance. And if you’re a returning high school athlete, that’s all you’re hoping for.”
The number of groups responsible for different elements of returning to school buildings complicates the decision-making process regarding interscholastic athletics. School districts have been charged with organizing their own specific plans for bringing students back to school buildings, and NYSPHSAA, like school districts and other local governments, operates under the rules put forth by the state government.
“That’s first and foremost, we have to get our kids back to school and not jeopardize their health and safety,” Hafele said. “That’s why we are in this profession. But there’s still so much uncertainty.”
As for how those groups interact, Mackey commended the NYSPHSAA task force for messaging to government officials that the initiative has been taken to re-evaluate the conditions for sports at a later date. This may prevent higher levels of government from taking more drastic steps before Sept. 21.
“NYSPHSAA is a governing body in New York state, but it’s under the guidance of the governor,” Mackey said. “It doesn’t matter what we come up with, we can have 15 different scenarios. All we can do on our end is get those scenarios in place, then we have to wait for guidance from the governor for schools, and in this case, the New York Board of Regents. Those things all come from above us.
“This gives us the ability to keep kicking the can down the road and maybe have something,” Mackey continued.
What lies further down the road remains unclear. While the initial plan is to delay the start of fall sports, the “condensed seasons” plan will provide a second opportunity for sports to go on in case competition during the fall is abandoned.
Even within those scenarios, there are numerous question marks. Some sports, like football, basketball, wrestling and lacrosse, have been identified as higher-risk sports that are less likely to have competition. Others, like cross country, golf and swimming may be more viable, regardless of the month in which they are ultimately contested.
While that uncertainty may dampen hopes for interscholastic sports seasons ahead, it also offers flexibility as time passes and more information becomes available.
“We have to do everything we can to safely guide the decision-making process, being respectful of and appreciating everyone’s desires, and countering that with the good of the whole and the most likely scenario that could be feasible,” Mackey said.