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Tioga County Sports Report
LATHAM, N.Y. — Dr. Robert Zayas, Executive Director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, and Chris Watson, NYSPHSAA Director of Communications, met with several members of the media via video conference this evening to discus the guidelines for the start of the fall sports season.

Most people familiar with the current state of interscholastic sports in New York are aware that the fall season begins Sept. 21, but football and volleyball, and, in some cases, competitive cheer are only allowed to practice.

The possibility of not having a fall season in those sports has people upset, another area certain to catch the ire of many is spectator limits. Only two spectators will be allowed per athlete (media guidelines are still being addressed). Student sections will not be allowed.

"The guidance provided to us right now from the department of health states that no more than two spectators per participant can be permitted at any game," Zayas said. "And again, that is guidance coming from our New York state Department of Health."

Guidelines governing practices are stringent also.

"School-sponsored practices may not be held, as per the guidance from state officials, until Sept. 21," Zayas said. "The fall season can not exceed 15 weeks, regardless of whether or not a sport begins competitive play, but the end date of the season will be left up to the sections."

As far as the practice, but no play rule goes, Zayas said there is a possibility that a fall competitive season could still be held in those sports, but the decision to do so would have to come from state health officials.

"Hypothetically, and I think the possibility is there that soccer, field hockey, girls tennis, girls swimming, cross country have a season this fall, and as per the guidance that has been provided, volleyball and football teams practice and don't get the opportunity to participate in a game," he said. "That would probably conclude their season, but again, so much is dependent on the decision of the officers and any additional guidance that we receive as a state association.

"But ultimately, if football and volleyball want to be moved to the spring season by individual sections, they have the ability to do that. I do believe some sections are considering that move."

If football, volleyball and competitive cheer practice, but don't play in the fall, they could move their seasons in the spring. Zayas said that is a decision left up to the discretion of each individual section and the NYSPHSAA officers.

"There was a lot of confusion with the differentiation between volleyball, as to why was it originally discussed to be a low- to moderate-risk sport and now why is it being considered a high-risk sport," said Zayas. "Originally, when we came out with our information pertaining to COVID we were utilizing the NFHS (National Federation of High Schools) sport risk assessment. The NFHS is the national governing body for high school athletic associations. The risk assessment from their sports medicine committee that I have an opportunity to be a member of, determined volleyball to be a low- or moderate-risk sport based upon the potential of respiratory droplet spread. When the guidance came out from the Department of Health here in New York state, New York state has their own criteria and they also have no obligation to abide by the NFHS risk assessment. New York state determined volleyball and football, and competitive cheer in the fall to be high-risk sports based upon the criteria they developed."

"Right now, based upon the information and the guidance that we've been provided by state officials, volleyball and football have been labeled as high-risk sports by the New York state Department of Health," said Zayas. "Therefore, they are limited to practice. If anything changes, that decision and that determination would be made by state officials. We as the state high school athletic association do not have the authority to supersede any decision made by state officials.

"I do want to add that if an individual section decides to do that, that it would be up to them as to how they would fit volleyball and football into a different time period. Some of the concerns I've herd expressed is moving volleyball and football to the spring season could negatively impact the student-athlete that just had their season completely canceled after three or four practices in early March, so there are an awful lot of concerns about attempting to move specific sports to later in the year."

Decisions to shut down or opt out of sports would fall on individual sections and school districts, according to Zayas. This has already happened on Long Island's Nassau County (Section VIII), which postponed all fall sports last week.

In an effort to allow teams to complete their fall seasons, the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force earlier in the day postponed the start of winter sports two weeks, from Nov. 16 to Nov. 30.

"This affords sections the opportunity to have two additional weeks of the fall season, if they so choose, to host fall sports in the next few weeks, Zayas said, " but keep in mind, it is a decision of the section and of school districts to whether they wish to host a sports season this fall."

Should a fall sport get started, then be forced to shut down due to COVID-19, it could resume at a later date.

"That's going to be at the discretion of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association's officers, who have to make decisions between regularly-scheduled meetings of our governing board," Zayas said. "And what I mean by that is if the fall season starts and soccer and field hockey and cross country get 10 or 15 practices in, they have a couple competitions, and then unfortunately because of a spike or because of guidance provided by state officials, the season must be suspended or postponed, then it would be at the discretion of those officers to determine if the season had been concluded or not. Now, if play seven weeks and soccer teams have played 12 games, and field hockey teams have played 13 or 14 games, then I think we would probably would be able to, at that point in time, determine that the season would have concluded and then we would have to start making decisions as to when the winter season could begin based upon, again, the guidance from state officials."

A couple of positive takeaways from the task force meeting were the waiving of the seven consecutive day rule, which prohibits teams from practicing or playing every day of the week, beginning Oct. 12.

Golf does not have a minimum practice requirement and will be able to start competitive play immediately. This will hopefully allow the golfers to avoid a potential changing of the seasons as fall play winds down.

Fall sports are open to all students provided they meet state guidelines.

"The state education department has a regulation referred to as the bona-fide student regulation," Zayas said. "That states that as long as a student is taking three courses plus physical education they are eligible for interscholastic athletics, so it doesn't matter what educational platform a student is taking, whether it be hybrid, remote or all in-person, that student, in accordance with the state education department's bona-fide student regulation, would be eligible."

Although regional and state competitions have been canceled in the fall, winter and spring have not at this point. Sectional play will be a decision left up to each section, Zayas said.

Guidelines for school districts to follow in dealing with COVID-19 issues, are expected to be released Friday. Coaches are being encouraged to contact their athletic director, section executive or Zayas with questions.

"At this point, it's almost 50 pages to dissect," Watson noted.

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