ALBANY — With Wednesday’s announcement that high school football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading all being pushed to March 1, 2021 for their ‘Fall II’ start date, Robert Zayas, Executive Director for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA), held a Zoom meeting to explain his decision, which certainly didn’t sit well with thousands of high school coaches, players and parents.
Zayas, who is in his ninth year as executive director, explained that his decision to postpone football, volleyball and cheerleading, came solely from information that he had gathered in the past two days.
“Over the course of the past two days, I have hosted seven Zoom meetings, for nearly 500 athletic directors, and I have listened to the concerns from those athletic directors, I have listened to them express their questions and concerns about high risk sports, this decision is being made as part of listening to our membership and attempting to assist them with the hosting of high risk fall sports at some point during the 2020 school year. (During those meetings) it had became very evident that there was concerns from our membership regarding high risk sports.”
Zayas went on to say that the NYS Department of Heath has categorized each sport as either low, moderate or high and football, volleyball and cheerleading were all classified as high risk sports.
“The decision we made (Wednesday) was based upon expressed concerns of our athletic administrators and member schools,” Zayas said.
Zayas felt it was necessary to not wait any longer and make his final decision sooner rather than later.
Last week it was announced that football and volleyball would be allowed to practice, under a socially distance environment following all guidelines, but not allowed to play any actual games or matches until further notice.
“When you look at the guidance we received from the Department of Health, and then to ask football players and volleyball players to potentially practice for four or five weeks without the opportunity to participate in a game, that was a great concern,” Zayas said. “There was also concerns about locker room use, concerns about weight room use, concerns about socially distancing during practice. Those were all concerns. So all of those things came together and said is it absolutely necessary to attempt to host high risk sports right now without truly knowing whether or not they would even have a season this fall.”
Zayas said by Dec. 31 the NYSPHSAA was going to get “additional guidance” on those high risk sports from state officials.
“That was part of the decision as well as we didn’t have a definitive time line as to when high risk fall sports were going to be allowed to play based upon the guidance from the Department of Health and state officials,” Zayas said. “And combine that with the concerns of our membership and that’s why we felt the need to move to March 1.”
Although both volleyball and competitive cheerleading are deemed ‘high risk’ sports by the DOH, Zayas wasn’t exactly sure why they deserved those ratings.
“We haven’t been given that justification,” Zayas said. “When you look at risk assessment it could be based on a number of different parameters. For example, there are some risk assessments from other entities that base their assessment on the potential of respiratory droplets spread. I’m not saying that’s what the Department of Health has done but that’s just one example how intricate the details could be associated with the high risk sports.”
So when Sept. 21 rolls around, only boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross-country and gymnastics will get the green light for competition.
All those sports besides gymnastics will require 10 practice days for eligibility while gymnastics will be 12 practice days.
Zayas also mentioned that if the current fall sports season that starts Sept. 21 somehow gets interrupted by coronavirus issues they could come back and finish when the second phase of fall sports goes on March 1.
Zayas also cleared up some questions and concerns about face coverings during the fall season.
“Currently, face covering guidance from the Department of Heath states, ‘If students cannot maintain six-feet social distance then they are required to wear a face covering. That’s the DOH guidance. It goes on to say that ‘students are required to wear a face covering unless they cannot tolerate the face covering during physical activity’ and nowhere in the guidance does it stipulate that a student must have a note from a parent or a note from a physician or any type of documentation from the school. The guidance is very clear that if a student cannot tolerate a face covering then that’s where the guidance ends and the student will be able to not wear a face covering during physical activity. If they are on the bench and they cannot maintain six feet from their teammates then they must have a face covering on and that goes for coaches as well.”
While the current fall sports season will not have any state or regional contests, Zayas did mention that currently both the winter and spring sports are scheduled to host NYS championship events.
Football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading will fall under the fall sports season and no state competition will be available although sectional contests will be up to each section Zayas said.
The fall sports season is scheduled to begin Sept. 21 with winter sports starting Nov. 30, although currently basketball, wrestling and ice hockey could all be in serious jeopardy if no state guidelines are issued before Dec. 31.
Basketball, wrestling and ice hockey are all considered high risk sports by the DOH.
Zayas also mentioned that he expects a small runover from his March 1 date with football and volleyball into his April 19 start date for spring sports.
Section V football is expected to have a six game regular season, with potentially four teams making sectionals from each classification although that is not yet official.
Football will require 12 practice days before they can play a scrimmage or game.
If football starts playing games by mid-March, a championship sectional team won’t be done until early May, meaning a possible three-week runover gap for spring sports.
But Zayas did mention that spring sports could extend their current mid-June finish if superintendents allow.
“Spring sports ends in mid-June, but could extend later with guidance and consultation with our school superintendents,” Zayas said.