LATHAM, N.Y. - With uncertainty surrounding the ability of high-risk sports to play or compete in the fall, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) announced, Friday, it has postponed football, volleyball and competitive cheer seasons until March 1, 2021.
These sports were slated to begin limited participation, practicing but not yet allowed to play games or compete, on Sept. 21. Low and moderate-risk fall sports will still begin practicing and playing on Sept. 21.
The Association also announced that the traditional spring sports season would be pushed back to Apr. 19, 2021 (from Mar. 15), in order to accommodate competition in what is now being called "Fall Sports Season II."
NYSPHSAA released a 41-page document on Sept. 4 with guidance on how high schools can safely return to low and moderate-risk interscholastic athletics in the fall. Officials were able to create that document using guidance from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), but there still remained a lot of uncertainty regarding high-risk sports.
Since the guidance was released, officials from NYSPHSAA met multiple times with over 500 member school athletic directors from all over the state via Zoom meetings, where concerns over the ability to host high-risk sports in the fall became a major theme.
According to NYSPHSAA officials, the trend seemed to point more and more towards moving those sports to another time in the academic year.
"We didn't have a definitive timeline as to when high-risk fall sports were going to be allowed to play based upon the guidance from the Department of Health and other state officials," said NYSPHSAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Zayas. "So combined with the concerns of the membership, we also had a situation that student-athletes were going to start practicing in those high-risk sports without truly understanding when they would be able to participate in games."
Zayas said throughout these meetings, it became increasingly clear that student-athletes in those sports would have a more beneficial athletic experience closer to the spring than they would in the fall.
"[Wednesday's] decision gives those student-athletes a little bit better of an opportunity to have a quality participation season," he said. "We all understand how important interscholastic athletics are to student-athletes and communities throughout the state. If we can afford those student-athletes to just play a few games in the spring, then I think we've accomplished our goal, especially considering how many challenges and obstacles our schools are faced with right now."
As it stands right now, the Fall II season will overlap with the beginning of the spring sports season by a couple of weeks. Student-athletes will be allowed to participate in both a Fall II and spring sport, as long as it is permitted by their respective school.
In addition, this decision may allow student-athletes to have a unique opportunity to play an additional sport. Student-athletes that compete in a traditional fall sport this academic year will also be eligible to play a sport during the Fall II season.
For example, if a student-athlete plays soccer in the fall, he or she would be able to play football or volleyball in the Fall II season. With this ruling, it would be theoretically possible to have a four-sport student-athlete this academic year.
While high-risk fall sports will no longer be officially practicing during the traditional fall season beginning on Sept. 21, they will be allowed to meet for offseason-type workouts as permitted by state guidance during the fall and winter seasons.
There will still be no state championships in any fall sports, whether in the traditional fall season or Fall II season this academic year. Individual sections and leagues may determine if they will hold any type of postseason championships for their member schools, but it will not culminate in state championships.
It's also not clear at this time the exact format of the Fall II season, exactly how many games will be played and how schedules will look, but right now the focus is on simply finding the best time frame to allow for a meaningful season.
"This is not an ideal situation, nothing has been ideal for the past six months," said Zayas. "We're trying our best to provide participation opportunities for the students with the obstacles being placed before them"
NYSPHSAA officials understand that not everyone will happy with the decision, as there have been calls from many in the public to 'let the kids play,' but they say the decisions are made based on numerous discussions with school officials and health officials state-wide to determine the best course of action.
"We know we are not going to have 100% buy-in from the public, that is never our goal," said Zayas. "It is never my goal to please everyone with every decision we make. It is my goal, however, to make decision that I believe, with my experience, is in the best interest of the student-athletes that I am hired to serve."
Wednesday's decision does not affect any winter or traditional spring sports, including high-risk sports such as basketball and ice hockey.
Decisions on those sports will be made at a later date.