Fall high school season delayed as NYSPHSAA eyes spring

Paul Battson/ContributorIn this 2016 file photo, the Niagara Falls football teams works during a preseason practice at the Niagara Falls High School Athletic Complex.

The fall 2020 season took its first tangible hit Thursday.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the governing body for high school athletics in New York State, voted to delay the start of the fall season, cancel all fall regional and state championships and "prepare to implement a condensed season schedule in January 2021 if high school sports remain prohibited throughout 2020 due to COVID-19" at the recommendation of the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force, it announced. 

“As the state considers reopening, it is unrealistic to believe athletic seasons can start on August 24th as originally scheduled,” Paul Harrica, NYSPHSAA president, said in a statement. “The priority will continue to be on the educational process and a return to learning in the safest way possible.”

Should officials decide to hold sports this fall, the season would not begin until Sept. 21 and it would conclude with sectional play. NYSPHSAA officials also voted to waive the seven-day practice rule, encourage teams to schedule close geographical opponents and leave the decision to hold offseason conditioning workouts in schools' hands . 

“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 13th 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."

NYSPHSAA also laid out a tentative "Condensed Season" plan should the fall season be called off completely. It involves three 10-week, overlapping seasons, starting Jan. 4.

 

Season I, comprised of winter sports — basketball, bowling, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track and field, skiing, boys swimming, wrestling and competitive cheer — would run Jan. 4 through March 13, with the possibility of wrestling and competitive cheer being pushed back due to their "high risk nature."

 

Season II, most fall sports — football, cross country, field hockey, soccer, girls swimming, volleyball and Unified bowling — would run March 1 through May 8. NYSPSHAA warned that weather could be an issues for outdoor sports, moving girls tennis to Season III.

Season III, spring's baseball, softball, golf, lacrosse, tennis, outdoor track and field, and Unified basketball, would close the year April 5 through June 12.

Of course, overlapping seasons would raise an issue for multi-sport athletes and coaches. A student-athlete who plays both football and baseball, for example, would have to pick one or the other, or juggle both, from April 5 through May 8.

Dean Santorio, who's coached both sports for years at Grand Island, expressed his concern on Twitter.

"If HS sports get pushed back to January in NYS then they should have 3 shortened seasons which do not overlap. Kids could still play 3 sports and not have to choose 1 or 2 and coaches could continue to coach 2 or 3 sports without giving them up," he wrote.

"You could play 15 basketball games in 6 weeks, 15 baseball games in 6 weeks, and 6 or 7 football games in 8 weeks.

"Overlapping sport seasons will be a disaster for players, coaches, and athletic directors!"

 

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