New York's Covid-19 task force proposes solutions for sports seasons

GREATER VALLEY — Pennsylvania schools may be able to have their players begin offseason workouts early but New York is on hold.

And it’s an indefinite hold.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said that last Thursday in response to NYSPHSAA guidelines that indicated student-athletes would be allowed to begin offseason training on campus when a region entered Phase 4 of the reopening plan.

Last Friday, new guidance from NYSPHSAA explained that Cuomo has the authority and any offseason on-campus activity has to go through him.

The word is that players can get into offseason workouts when authorization is given and it’ll be given when it’s given.

That may be more confusing because the state will now allow outside groups or individuals to use school district fields to host summer camps.

On Tuesday, NYSPHSAA’s COVID-19 Task Force had its second meeting. They reviewed a number of return to school models including a full return to school, a hybrid education model and a full virtual model and added proposals for athletics to the mix. They emphasized that the proposals serve as a starting point or framework to assist the task force in providing guidance and recommendations.

Proposals to address the scenarios reviewed included a full return to athletic participation, potential adjustments to seasons and condensing all three seasons. Starting the school year without athletics is also an option.

Here’s where things really get interesting.

The committee was truly thinking outside the box and has come up with some very interesting options to consider if adjustments need to be made to the usual schedule. The key component of thee adjustments is starting the sports seasons with low risk athletics — in terms of transmission of disease, not risk of injury — and moving to what are considered higher-risk sports later in the school year. We’re only listing sports the three New York schools in our coverage area — Waverly, Tioga and Spencer-Van Etten — offer.

Sports that are considered low risk include baseball; softball; outdoor track and field; boys and girls golf; swimming and diving; and boys and girls bowling.

Sports termed as moderate to high risk include football; boys and girls soccer; field hockey; tennis; and wrestling.

The first would be if schools open with a combination of in-person and online learning or if the schools have virtual learning only and athletics are allowed. There are two proposals to examine.

The first adjustment that could be implemented would be a flip of seasons. In that scenario, the fall season, running from August 24 to Dec. 5, would include low-risk sports. Sports that are considered low risk include baseball; softball; outdoor track and field; boys and girls golf; swimming and diving; and boys and girls bowling.

Yes. That means baseball, softball and outdoor track and field could be paired with girls swimming and diving an boys and girls bowling.

The winter season, from Nov. 16 to March 20, would be for moderate-risk sports and would have very few changes. Designated as moderate-risk sports are boys and girls basketball; indoor track and field; boys swimming and diving; and volleyball. The only sport to move into the winter from a different season would be volleyball, which is usually a fall sport.

That leaves the spring, from March 15 to June 12, for the moderate to high risk sports. Sports termed as moderate-to-high risk include football; boys and girls soccer; field hockey; tennis; and wrestling.

It should be noted that some sport seasons have been moved in order to be separated from another sport with which it has high crossover participation. One noted example is having outdoor track and field in the fall to move it away from football, soccer and field hockey.

In other cases, the change could create issues. One example is having football and wrestling in the same season. Currently, while the state has no such restriction, Section IV doesn’t allow athletes to participate in more than one sport per season.

Another intriguing option would be to split the seasons up even more. There are fewer conflicts under this proposal.

Fall season I, from Aug. 24 to Oct. 17, would have boys and girls golf; tennis; boys and girls bowling; and boys and girls cross country.

Fall season II, from Oct. 19 to Dec. 12, would have boys and girls swimming and diving and volleyball.

The winter season, from Jan. 4 to Feb. 19, would have boys and girls basketball and indoor track.

Spring season I would include football, boys and girls soccer and field hockey from March 1 to April 24.

Spring season II, running from April 26 to June 12, would include baseball, softball, wrestling, and outdoor track and field.

The task force is finalizing the proposals and plans to release the document to the NYSPHSAA membership later in the week for feedback.

If all goes well, the task force will hear back by late July or early August. The fall season in New York is slated to begin on Aug. 24.

The last proposal is the most extreme of all and could apply only if the schools elect to have hybrid education or all virtual learning. In that proposal, there would be no athletics at the start of the school year. The initial season, running from Jan 4 to March 13, would have boys and girls bowling, indoor track and field and boys swimming.

Season II wold pack football; wrestling; cross country; field hockey; boys and girls soccer; girls swimming; and volleyball into a time frame that runs from March 1 to May 8.

Season III, running from April 5 to June 12, would include baseball; softball; boys and girls golf; tennis; and outdoor track and field.

The task force could also come back with a system that includes provisions only for sectional championships, only regional championships, only upstate/downstate titles or full playoffs.

No date has been set for the next task force meeting.

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