1. This was the week where we might have inched closer to some semblance of a fall sports season. It was all launched on Monday when New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that schools could have sports when practices were scheduled to begin September 21. This was the date that the New York State Public High School Athletic Association decided earlier this month would be a starting point, pushed back from what would have been this week. In doing so, NYSPHSAA, at the recommendation of its COVID-19 Task Force, announced that there would not be any state championships for the fall sports, but that individual sections could crown their own champions.
2. But it was not a full return to action for fall sports. Some of them – soccer, field hockey, cross country, tennis, swimming and golf – were deemed “low-risk” and were allowed to both start practices and have a full season. However, football and volleyball were deemed “high-risk” and while allowed to practice, they weren’t cleared for games. The risk in football is obvious to everyone, but with volleyball the problem is that it’s an indoor sport and all of them carry a larger inherent risk to spread COVID-19. What that means for winter sports is anyone’s guess since they’re all indoors, and the fate of their seasons might entirely hinge on where the state and country stands in fighting the pandemic plus the inevitable flu season.
3. The governor’s announcement only began a dizzying sequence of events that only added to the confusion and suspsense. When individual sections met a day later, the Long Island sections went in separate directions, with Section VIII (Nassau County) voting to postpone all sports until January 1 and Section XI (Suffolk County) deciding to go ahead. The Nassau County decision was met with lots of outrage and criticism from both students and their parents, with rallies and petitions begging the section to reconsider and the section even stepping back a bit to say that they would wait to see what happened when schools opened and that they might change their minds and let everyone play after all.
4. And then things got more complicated when the state’s association of school superintendents sent a letter to Governor Cuomo on Wednesday saying that they recommended moving all sports to 2021. They said that all the complications and challenges of opening schools made it too difficult to try and put together all the conditions to have extracurricular activities of all sorts, sports included. In response, Cuomo said that he didn’t say schools HAD to have sports, but that they were allowed to do so and that the decision lay with schools. Either way, it was an instance of powerful entities tossing responsibility back and forth, but neither of them wanting to be the bad guy pulling the plug.
5. Ultimately, the state Health Department released health guidlines for interscholastic athletics late in the week. Given the volume of guidelines, NYSPHSAA announced that they would need more meetings with sectional leaders and then another full session with the COVID-19 Task Force next week before making any final decision on whether there would be fall sports. The whole saga has left teams, players and coaches in limbo. They already lost the spring season to the virus and now the fall season teeters, with no one having any real idea where it will all end. Adults are making big decisions with little or no input from those quite willing to go out there and resume their athletic endeavors.
6. If we do get to a season, there are some great stories to focus on, with football full of changes. Class AA is smaller than before, and they intended to do a full round-robin schedule. Three city schools – Henninger, Corcoran and Nottingham – are joined by suburban schools Cicero-North Syracuse, Liverpool, Baldwinsville and West Genesee, with C-NS trying to go after a fourth consecutive sectional title but denied a chance at further glory. During the summer, Mike Washington, one of the Northstars’ top players, announced a verbal commitment to the University at Buffalo, which ended a heated recruiting process where 17 schools showed interest, including from as far away as Colorado State.
7. It promised to be an exciting season in Class A football on several fronts. There was Carthage making its way back after nearly winning the state championship a season ago, dropping a classic title game to Cornwall. Indian River, a recent state champion, figured to challenge, too, but there was also Central Square and Auburn who had strong 2019 seasons and ESM looking to bounce back and contend. Adding to all this was the move of Fayetteville-Manlius and Christian Brothers Academy into the Class A ranks after long stretches in AA. Both of these schools won sectional titles the last time they were in Class AA, though it was more than 15 years ago. Jamesville-DeWitt was set to return after a season in the developmental division.
8. The massive changes everywhere in Section III football also affected Class B. Solvay, last year’s impressie sectional champions, got moved down, as did long-time powerhouse Cazenovia and Bishop Ludden. What it left behind was an East division long dominated by the Lakers but now open to the likes of Oneida, a sectional finalist last year, plus VVS, New Hartford, Camden, Chittenango and Central Valley Academy. With neighborhood rivalries further broken up in B East, there’s Marcellus, Westhill, and Institute of Technology Central joined by Homer and Cortland, along with South Jefferson, guaranteeing there would be a new sectional champion if any of them ever take the field.
9. Then we have Class C football, which is also exciting to ponder. Despite its heavy graduation losses, Solvay could still have an impact as they and Bishop Ludden join a C-2 division where Skaneateles, Canastota, Little Falls, Clinton, Sherburne-Earlville and Westmoreland/Oriskany also operate. The C-1 division is even better because Lowville, who won the sectional title in 2019 and then dropped a regional thriller to eventual state champion Susquehanna Valley, lands with fellow north country power General Brown. Cazenovia got here, too, after its move from Class B. The combined Southern Hills team, along with Jordan-Elbridge, Holland Patent, Hannibal and Mount Markham fill out the league.
10. Class D football has 11 teams on hand, with Dolgeville, Herkimer, defending sectional champion Frankfort-Schuyler, newcomer Utica Notre Dame, Waterville and Sauquoit Valley in the East division and a five-team West division where Cato-Meridian, Onondaga, Beaver River, Sandy Creek and Thousand Islands are operating. Then there’s eight-man football, where despite dominating the last two years Weedsport stays with 10 other schools participating. Oswego, who didn’t even have a team a year ago, is back with an new head coach, a newly installed home field and part of a seven-team independent division with PSLA/Fowler (finally playing home games, too), Mexico, Phoenix, APW, Pulaski and Port Byron/Union Springs.