1. No story is bigger in high school sports than the question about when it will actually return. To address these concerns, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association set up a COVID-19 Task Force involving officials from NYSPHSAA with state Health Department and Education Department officials, plus athletic directors and principals from across the state, including Jamesville-DeWitt High School principal Paul Gasparini. At their first meeting earlier this month, the task force agreed that no sports could happen until school buildings were open, which remained an open question since summer school was done remotely, just like all classes were from March to June.
2. Just before the Task Force met, the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations, or NFHS, offered their own guidance to the 50 state federations, including NYSPHSAA, on how to restart sports. Like with New York State’s reopening, it involved multiple phases, with the first phase extremely minimal individual activity, no gatherings of more than 10 and keeping everything clean. Eventually the phases allow for larger gatherings and larger workouts – groups of 25 and groups of 50 in the next two phases, even though the cleaning protocols remain extensive and, in terms of workouts, equipment would need constant disinfection and individuals would need their own hydration.
3. How do all these national standards affect the fall sports season in New York State, if it takes place? Low-contact sports such as golf, tennis and cross country could return relatively intact from the outset. Soccer and field hockey would have the advantage of taking place outdoors, though in groups, with football getting the most attention, of course, and the biggest hurdles to overcome, from close physical contact in practices and games to the large crowds they draw, even if they are outdoors. Indoor sports would have a tougher time given all the concerns about COVID-19 spreading in crowded spaces. That would mean volleyball and swimming might be in some jeopardy even if schools opened.
4. The question of returning to football depends, like all other fall sports, on whether schools open. If they do (at full capacity or otherwise), they will do so in a vastly different structure in 2020, starting in Class AA. Gone are F-M and CBA, leaving nine teams – C-NS, Baldwinsville, Liverpool, West Genesee, Henninger, Nottingham, Corcoran, Utica Proctor and Rome Free Academy – playing a full round-robin regular season in a single division (no more AA-1 and AA-2 divisions), and now allowed to play nine regular-season games. The end result is that just four teams will get to the playoffs, meeting in semifinals in early November before going to the refurbished Dome for the sectional finals.
5. The addition of F-M and CBA transforms Class A football into a far stronger division than in years past. For not only do the Hornets and Brothers show up, J-D returns after being in the developmental division in 2019. CBA, J-D and ESM are all in the same American division, joined by Auburn and Indian River. In the National division, F-M, who won a sectional title as a Class A team in 1998 before getting bumped up to AA for two decades, joins the Carthage team that nearly won the state championship a year ago. Strong programs from Whitesboro and Central Square, along with Fulton, rounds out the American division, making Class A arguably deeper with good teams than AA for the first time in memory.
6. Big changes continue when you get to Class B football. Gone are the defending sectional champions, Solvay, and gone is powerhouse Cazenovia plus Bishop Ludden. What’s left are 12 teams in two divisions that otherwise remain relatively intact, at least when compared with the upheaval in the large schools. Oneida, a sectional finalist last year, heads the East division with archrival VVS, Camden, Chittenango, New Hartford and Central Valley Academy. In the West division, with Solvay gone, two of its closest neighbors, Marcellus and Westhill, remain with Homer and its main rival, Cortland, while South Jefferson and Syracuse ITC round out the field, each looking for big improvement.
7. Needless to say, the arrival of Solvay, Cazenovia and Bishop Ludden enlivens Class C football in 2020, if it happens. There are now two divisions, C-1 and C-2, and in C-1 is where Cazenovia landed, immediately challenged by defending sectional champion Lowville and General Brown, with Mount Markham, Jordan-Elbridge, Holland Patent, Hannibal and Southern Hills also part of the field. Then there’s the C-2 division, where Solvay and Ludden rejoin Skaneateles, who used to be in B West with them. Add Canastota, Little Falls, Clinton, Westmoreland and Sherburne-Earlville, and you’ve got a league where there’s a lot of long road trips – two hours or so from west to east or up to the north country.
8. Moving to Class D football, there’s 12 teams on hand. Utica-Notre Dame moves into the East division with Dolgeville, Waterville, Frankfort-Schuyler, Herkimer and Sauquoit Valley. Cato-Meridian, a Class C sectional finalist last year, goes into the North/West division with Onondaga, Sandy Creek, Beaver River and Thousand Islands. And Weedsport, despite its big numbers, is still playing eight-man football, a two-time defending sectional champion challenged by Bishop Grimes, Adirondack, Cooperstown, Westmoreland, Morrisville-Eaton, South Lewis, West Canada and New York Mills. PSLA Fowler, Mexico, Oswego, APW, Port Byron and Phoenix are part of an Independent division with its own title to decide.
9. Big coaching news dropped in June when it came to C-NS basketball on both sides. With Eric Smith stepping aside, the powerful girls Northstars tapped Rob Siechen to replace him – the same coach who led J-D to three consecutive state Class A titles from 2016 to 2018. So as the Red Rams look for a new girls coach, the C-NS boys had to find out who would replace John Haas, who stepped down late in April. The Northstars manged to get Kyle Martin, a former Tully High School great who had coached for five years at SUNY-Purchase, but decided in these pandemic times to have his young family much closer to home with his extended family, and take on the challenge of turning a 2-18 team around.
10. As of late June, the most active college recruiting story of a basketball prospect in CNY remains an open question. Baldwinsville superstar J.J. Starling, already offered by SU and Washington, got a long list of offers as the spring wore on, eventually drifting into summer. But Starling still hadn’t decided what to do for his junior and senior years of high school, with the rumors long circulating that he would go to a prep school. Already, a standout from the local ranks, Skaneateles’ Nate Fouts, said that he was going to a prep school for his senior year, a path similar to what players like Buddy Boeheim and Tyler Bertram took in recent years before they went into the college ranks.