LATHAM, N.Y. - The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) COVID-19 Task Force met for the fifth time, Monday, where it examined state guidance and how best to implement it for sports season this academic year.
The results of the meeting saw alterations to practice policies this academic school year, and the delay of the winter sports season.
NYSPHSAA officers voted to postpone the start of the winter sports season to November 30, from its original start date of November 16.
After Governor Cuomo gave the green light for low to moderate-risk fall sports to begin on September 21, last week, the NYSPHSAA wanted to give sections and school districts the chance to have two additional weeks to complete fall seasons before winter sports began in order to decrease the overlap in seasons.
Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA Executive Director, said that it is still up to each section and its individual school districts to decide if they will hold sports this fall. Once the fall season does begin, sections and school districts have no more than 15 weeks to complete the season.
For high-risk sports of volleyball and football, in which teams can practice but not yet play, once practices begin on September 21, that will also begin the clock for a 15-week season despite no games being played.
Section VIII, which encompasses Nassau County on Long Island, is the only section to this point that has opted out of holding sports this fall, making a decision to delay all sports until at least January.
As of now, volleyball and football will remain fall sports as the NYSPHSAA intends to move forward with those sports once the state provides guidance that allows for it. However, Zayas again said that sections and school districts can decide to move those sports to the spring if they wish to do so.
"Each section has their own autonomy and authority to decide on interscholastic athletics that is most appropriate for them," Zayas said. "There is no requirement to host interscholastic athletics this fall."
The number of practices required for eligibility to play games has been increased for this academic year, to 12 for football and 10 for all other fall sports. This is up from 10 and 6, respectively, under normal circumstances.
"Our association is aware that many students have been working out during the COVID crisis, away from school and away from their teammates," Zayas said. "However, there is a reality and the possibility that some students have not had the gratuity nor the desire to participate and work out as other student-athletes have. So we feel as though adding a few additional practices to the beginning of the season, for conditioning purposes while they're with their high school coach, is a good idea."
NYSPHSAA officers also decided to waive the seven consecutive day rule for practices beginning on October 12, to allow teams around the state more time to get the appropriate number of practices and games in during the 15-week window.
Teams will be restricted to play only in their immediate area, as it relates to their section and league, until October 19 where, unless the guidance changes, teams will then be able to travel further for competition.
On the topic of high-risk sports, decisions from Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health regarding game play could come as late as December 31, according to Monday's NYSPHSAA release, which has caused uncertainty and pressing questions from those involved in those sports.
"Unfortunately, there are unintended consequences in all aspects of this COVID crisis," Zayas said. "I know that there are parents and students who are concerned with the potential of college scholarships. That is something that needs to be something that is looked at after we get past this COVID crisis. But right now, our focus is on student-athletes' safety and making sure that we are able to preserve some aspect of the season if we are given the authorization to do so by state officials."
Another question that has been raised regarding sports this academic year is eligibility of students who will learn virtually or through hybrid education. Zayas said that all students, regardless of method of education, will be eligible to participate in interscholastic athletics provided that they are enrolled in at least three classes plus physical education.
Once games do begin, there will be a two spectator limit per participant at any contest.
The NYSPHSAA will release its own guidance document as a "road-map" or "blueprint" to assist school districts phase interscholastic sports back into its extra-curricular activities.
That document is expected to be posted by Friday.
For more information, visit NYSPHSAA.org.