November 27, 2021

State lays out options for return of sports High Schools

Photo provided by New York State Public High School Athletic Association

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s COVID-19 Task Force met for the second time Tuesday and the biggest take away from the meeting was possible scenarios for the restarting of high school sports.

The possibility of switching sports to different times of the year was among the scenarios laid out by for the 2020- 21 high school year, but any decision will still be contingent on when Governor Andrew Cuomo determines if and when schools reopen in the state.

The NYSPHSAA makes it clear the potential scenarios are only a “starting point” or “framework” to assist the task force in providing guidance and suggestions if necessary.

Focus is on safety of the student-athletes, followed by keeping them engaged. Championship events are a low priority and fan attendance ranked very low in importance in a survey conducted by the NYSPHSAA of nearly 6,000 superintendents, principals, athletic directors and coaches. Any implementation of these early suggestions from the NYSPHSAA would also need to follow general state and local guidelines and regulations, with health departments also potentially playing a role in determining fan attendance.

The task force has included tentative potential dates and the scenarios are based on National Federation of High School Sports’ (NFHS) risk assessments for sports.

The high risk sports include wrestling, football, boys lacrosse and competitive cheer based on close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers and high probability of respiratory particles being transmitted between participants.

Sports considered moderate risk include basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, ice hockey and gymnastics, with some events within sports such as swimming and track either moderate risk or low risk depending on the number of competitors and the potential to clean equipment between participants.

Among the many questions that would need to be addressed in any adjusted situation would be the availability of facilities and personnel such as coaches and officials. The task force also leaves open the possibility of sections or regions adjusting sports seasons depending on the number of COVID-19 cases in those areas.

Other items to be considered would be practice requirements, screening student-athletes and coaches, and possibly extending spring seasons into July.

Multiple potential scenarios were outlined:

1. Schools open for in-person learning, with athletics: In this situation sports would be played as normally scheduled, with social distancing regulations in place. Practices for fall sports would begin as scheduled Aug. 24, with competitions to follow.

2. Schools open with hybrid education or distance learning, with athletics: A hybrid learning setting would include a combination of in-school classes and virtual learning. Distance learning would include remote classes as schools did in the spring after the coronavirus pandemic hit.

3. Schools only provide distance learning (virtual education); includes
athletic participation:
In the second or third situations, there are two possible scenarios that involve moving some sports around to different times of year, putting lower risk sports in the fall, moderate risk sports in the winter and higher risk/moderate risk sports in the spring.

NY Season Adjustment A Fall season (Aug. 24-Dec. 5): baseball, softball, outdoor track and field, golf, girls tennis, girls swimming and diving, girls lacrosse and bowling.

Winter season (Nov. 16-March 20): basketball, indoor track, gymnastics, boys swimming and diving, ice hockey, skiing, volleyball and Unified Sports bowling.

Spring season (March 15-June 12): football, soccer, field hockey, cross country, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer, boys tennis, wrestling, Unified Sports basketball.

or NY Season Adjustment B Fall season 1 (Aug. 24-Oct. 17): golf, tennis, bowling, cross country.

Fall season 2 (Oct. 19-Dec. 12): swimming and diving, gymnastics, volleyball.

Winter season (Jan. 4-Feb. 19): basketball, indoor track and field, ice hockey, skiing, Unified bowling.

Spring season 1 (March 1-April 24): football, soccer, field hockey, competitive cheer, Unified basketball.

Spring season 2 (April 26-June 12): baseball, softball, outdoor track and field, lacrosse, wrestling, Unified basketball.

4. Schools open with hybrid education (combination of in-person and virtual learning); does NOT include athletic participation at start of school year.

5. Schools only provide distance learning; does NOT include athletic participation at start of school year.

With social distancing restrictions in place, sports cannot be played at the start of the school year. Instead of canceling the Fall season and start of Winter season, sports seasons will be realigned into three ten-week seasons starting in January, with game limits reduced, and the potential of having an even later start date and a further condensed season if sports are not able to begin in early January.

This will provide school districts the opportunity to adapt to a new school setting before addressing extracurricular participation challenges.

Condensed seasons

Jan. 4-March 13 (season 1): basketball, bowling, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track and field, skiing, boys swimming.

March 1-May 8 (season 2): football, competitive cheer, wrestling, cross country, field hockey, soccer, girls swimming, volleyball, Unified bowling.

April 5-June 12 (season 3): baseball, softball, golf, lacrosse, tennis, outdoor track and field, Unified basketball.

Once again, it is all a waiting game at this point as the future is still unclear because of the COVID-19 pandemic. New York State is in better shape right now than many states, but there is still a lot of cautious optimism when dealing with future events.