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Window tightening for potential spring high school sports season

Schools closed through at least May 15, NYSPHSAA decision on spring championships still coming by April 27
Niskayuna James Murphy tags out Shenendehowa’s Nick Lemire during the 2019 Section II Class A baseball championship game.
Niskayuna James Murphy tags out Shenendehowa’s Nick Lemire during the 2019 Section II Class A baseball championship game.

Categories: High School Sports, Sports

In his years leading the New York State Public High School Athletic Association as its executive director, Robert Zayas “always felt like I was planning for worst-case scenarios.”

In the last month?

“My definition of worst-case scenario has been redefined,” Zayas said Thursday in a phone interview with The Daily Gazette shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that schools — among other entities — will remain closed in the state through May 15, at least.

That means high school athletics in the state remain suspended through that date because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes all practices and competitions, and the governor’s latest extension of the “New York State on PAUSE” order makes it more unlikely that the NYSPHSAA will sponsor state championships this spring and more likely that a season of any kind will likely need to be even further abbreviated than previously thought.

“It shortened that possible window of time that we could come up with options for by two weeks,” Section II executive director Ed Dopp said. “That’s not a good thing for us, but it’s not the final nail in the coffin.”

Even with an optimistic gaze, though, it’s certainly close to it.

While much remains uncertain and deadlines could be altered, the state’s spring high school athletes are currently looking at a best-case scenario in which their season will last a month — but they’ll only be allowed to compete in games, matches and meets for less than that. 

Even with the cancellation earlier this month of the June Regents whose start generally serves as a cutoff date for spring sports competition, both Dopp and Zayas said they’re currently operating with a belief that any competition will need to conclude by June 14.

“I’m still operating, until I hear differently, under the assumption that we’d have to wrap up interscholastic athletics by June 14,” Dopp said. “I understand there are not Regents exams, but I also am assuming there will be school exams that will take place. So, until I hear differently, I’m assuming our window is the date we’re allowed to go back until June 14th.”

That means, in what amounts to a best-case scenario at this point, athletes could begin practicing in mid-May after they’re physically back in classrooms, a benchmark Zayas said he views as a prerequisite for athletics to restart. Games, matches and meets, though, would be at least one week off from that point. After a lengthy layoff from in-person, organized team activities, Dopp and Zayas said their expectation is that teams would need to “restart the clock” in terms of completing the necessary number of practices before they can compete. That number of practices is six for all spring sports except for baseball, which requires 10. 

“And I would have to question how we could go against that regulation that we have in place,” said Zayas, citing that it’s in place to protect the safety of athletes.

That all would mean that most sports would have approximately three weeks to compete.

“So, then, the question for me really becomes what can we realistically do in three weeks?” Dopp said.

The NYSPHSAA still plans to announce by April 27 whether it is “feasible” for the organization to sponsor state championships, and Zayas said his hope is that when that announcement is made that there will be clarity in terms of “where we are going with the spring season,” in general.

“I’m trying to get our membership to remain patient and try not to do too much planning yet,” said Zayas, explaining that — if school ends up back in session this academic year — his expectation is that the NYSPHSAA and its member sections will have a week or more to figure out how they should proceed with potential athletic competitions. 

While the NYSPHSAA will decide no later than April 27 on the status of its championships, Dopp said there’s no deadline yet for Section II in terms of deciding to cancel the entire spring season.

“We’re still holding out hope that we might be able to do something,” Dopp said. “But that date will come. I don’t know what it is yet. We have not established that yet.”

Regardless of what’s decided at the state and section levels, Dopp said he is “sure there would be some schools that would not participate” in spring sports this season. Emma Willard has already made that decision, and Dopp said he doubts that school would be alone in not allowing its athletes to compete if there is a season.

“It’s still going to be a local school superintendent’s, a Board of Education’s decision on whether they feel it is in the best interest to have their student-athletes participate,” Dopp said.

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

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