The high school athletic fields across New York State will remain quiet at least until the third week of September.
The Officers of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) voted July 16 to delay the official start date of the 2020 fall sports season, cancel the fall Regional and State Championships and prepare to implement a condensed season schedule in January 2021 if high school sports remain prohibited throughout this year due to COVID-19.
This decision comes at the recommendation of the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force when it convened as a working group for the third time this morning. “As the state considers reopening, it is unrealistic to believe athletic seasons can start on Aug. 24 as originally scheduled,” said Paul Harrica, NYSPHSAA President. “The priority will continue to be on the educational process and a return to learning in the safest way possible.”
The NYSPHSAA Officers’ decision includes delaying fall sports practice start date until Monday, Sept. 21, waiving the seven-day practice rule, maintaining current practice requirements, and encouraging geographic scheduling for games. Schools would have the option, if permitted by state officials, to offer off-season conditioning workouts.
“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,” said Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA Executive Director. “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,” Zayas added.
If football practice begins Sept. 21, Nassau County will maintain its full 2020 regular-season schedule with a start date of Saturday, Oct. 3, said Section 8 football coordinator Matt McLees. The original start date was Thursday, Sept. 17.
“I’m actually happy for the delay,” McLees said. “I thought the news would have been worse. I don’t think we are out of the woods yet though for the fall. But for now, we have hope.”
McLees said the Nassau football season would conclude with county championship games Dec. 5 and 6, pending Section 8 approval. The number of playoff teams in each of Nassau’s four conferences has been cut in half, from eight to four, and there will not be Long Island championships.
Other fall sports, such as soccer, volleyball, field hockey, girls tennis, girls swimming and cross country, require only six days of practice compared to football’s 10 prior to competition and could face opponents as early as Sept. 28.
“We’re all trying to pull in the same direction,” Section 8 boys’ soccer coordinator Al Freeman said. “In these circumstances, the first thing is to make sure the kids get their education. In terms of the soccer season, we’ll await guidance from Boces and then create a schedule and alignment.”
With regional differences, schools and areas will be impacted differently by the COVID-19 crisis. At the discretion of the NYSPHSAA Officers and authorization from state officials, if the fall sports season is interrupted or impacted by COVID-19 crisis (i.e. state official guidance, school closings, cancelation of high-risk sports, etc.) then a condensed seasons plan will be implemented.
The condensed season plan would call for three 10-week campaigns, with winter sports (basketball, bowling, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track & field, swimming (boys), skiing, and tentatively wrestling and competitive cheer going Jan. 4-March 13, fall sports (football, cross country, field hockey, soccer, swimming (girls) and volleyball going March 1-May 8, and spring sports (baseball, softball, lacrosse, golf, tennis, and outdoor track & field taking place April 5-June 12. Because of the high-risk nature of wrestling and competitive cheer, they may be moved to later dates in the condensed model.
“It’s my goal to preserve every sports season for every student athlete,” said Zayas, who noted 198,000 students participate in Fall sports alone statewide. “What we are trying to do is develop solutions to benefit student-athletes and to provide them with an opportunity to participate,” he added. “We need to be flexible and we need to be open to exploring all ideas and all options.”
The NYSPHSAA Officers have the ability to adjust seasons with the authority granted within the NYSPHSAA Constitution which states: “Article IV, 2: A committee of officers in consultation with the staff shall have the authority to act on all matters not provided for in this constitution and bylaws, and on such emergency business as may arise between regular meetings of the Executive Committee.”