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HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

On the flip side: Cayuga County coaches, AD weigh possible changes to athletic calendar

Auburn F-M girls lacrosse 7.JPG (copy)

Auburn's Jillian Alberici wins the draw against Fayetteville-Manlius at SUNY Cortland in 2019. The NYSPHSAA's COVID-19 task force recently outlined a scenario which would alter the athletic calendar and move several spring sports, like girls lacrosse, to the fall. Most fall sports, like football and soccer, would take place in the spring. 

Baseball diamonds covered in orange and brown fall leaves. Football's Friday night lights on a muggy spring evening. 

Under one scenario outlined by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association's COVID-19 task force, both could be possible this upcoming academic year. 

If high school sports are allowed to resume this fall, the task force's scenarios raised the possibility of adjusting the athletic calendar. In "Season Adjustment A" baseball, softball and outdoor track and field — considered low risk by the National Federation of High Schools — would be among typical spring sports that would switch to the fall. Normal fall sports like football and soccer, both considered high risk, would be included in a move to spring. Winter season would remain largely unchanged aside from wrestling (another high-risk sport), which would move to spring.

Girls lacrosse would move up to the fall, while boys lacrosse would remain in the spring. 

"Season Adjustment B" suggests not only a switch to different seasons for several sports, but splitting up the athletic calendar into five eight-week increments, with only a few days of break between each season. 

Either adjustment would be a massive shift for high school programs, with proponents and opponents to both scenarios. Several questions would need to be grappled with before a decision is made.  

Is this idea fair?

While positive coronavirus cases in New York state have been on a downturn since spiking in April, there is concern of a second wave this fall that coincides with flu season. 

When coronavirus hit New York in March, the entirety of spring interscholastic sports — such as baseball, softball, and lacrosse — were wiped out. While schools (and sports) could return, another spike could lead to closures and another lost season for spring athletes, should a season adjustment come to fruition. 

"We'd kinda be messed up twice," Auburn girls lacrosse coach Bill Dean said. "For some of those sports that would be switching, that's not necessarily fair. If something happens in the fall, which a lot of people think it might, you're unlucky twice."

Port Byron athletic director Kim Brown suggested that if the state were to approve of such a season adjustment, there should be a clause that ensures if the fall season prematurely ends, the athletic calendar would revert back to its previous form. 

"Missing two consecutive spring seasons ... I think that would be foolish on our part to not have something in place that's written that dictates that," Brown said. "It's a common sense response, but for the student-athletes and the parents it provides relief as opposed to being frustrated they could possibly lose two seasons in a row, and knowing (typical fall sports) possibly wouldn't lose time whatsoever."

While Dean's preference is "whatever's gonna give us a better chance to have a season," he does have reservations about the preparedness of his players if lacrosse is played in the fall. During a normal season, players in his program participate in fall leagues and box lacrosse during the winter. Losing those opportunities, along with the already canceled 2020 spring season, would cost younger players valuable reps that could impact their development. 

"I wouldn't feel as prepared, and I don't think the girls would be as prepared," Dean said. "Some of those girls that maybe we were thinking were JV candidates in the spring didn't get that experience. You're looking at those girls to fill roles (on varsity), but now it's like they didn't get that bridge year to develop a little bit and you didn't have that offseason, and you're being thrown into a varsity season. 

"It's a lot of growing pains, and you're going to have to catch on quick."

Is this idea feasible?

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that all school districts in New York state have been directed to create a reopening plan for the upcoming academic year. However, there has been no decision made on if schools will actually reopen, or what they'll look like when they do. 

Without some form of school, there's no sports. 

Despite the uncertainty, Monday, Aug. 24 remains the first official day for fall sports in New York. 

(Editor's note: Gov. Cuomo announced Wednesday that a decision regarding the 2020-21 school year will be made official the week of Aug. 1-7.)

Because of the complexity of reserving fields, securing officials, and booking transportation, athletic calendars are typically finalized months in advance. High school football schedules, for example, are released in April about five months before games are played. 

That's only for the regular season. Sectional and state championship sites are also planned well in advance. 

Schedules are not impossible to revise, as New York's cold and rainy springs often force changes on the fly. Brown said athletic directors are "used to being in a crunch and having to switch things around last minute."

He does not have a specific date in mind for a season adjustment to be settled. 

"Whatever guidance that's provided, we utilize the days we have and we get everything done in that time frame," Brown said. "It's tough, but it's a matter of receiving more information and guidance. You talk about transportation. I think that's something all school districts are dealing with, and it's not just an athletic issue either. It's a transportation issue of getting kids to school. It really comes down to receiving the information we need."

Is this going to create conflicts for student-athletes?

In Season Adjustment A, football, boys lacrosse and wrestling — which are all offered during different seasons in a normal athletic calendar — would take place in the spring. 

That's just one example of creating a conflict that didn't previously exist. In Season Adjustment B, a student-athlete could compete in football from March 1-April 24, then jump right into baseball on April 26. 

While Weedsport doesn't offer sports like wrestling or lacrosse, head football coach Rob Piascik acknowledges that student-athletes at small schools would suddenly be forced to make tough decisions. 

"You're gonna put kids in a situation where they've got to choose. There's no scenario where it's just a straight swap," Piascik said. "There's overlap or seasons that run into each other. A small school is gonna have a hard time when half the football team is also on the lacrosse team. They might like one sport more than another, but at a small school your football kids are playing baseball or running track, in most cases playing two sports and sometimes three."

Brown said potential new conflicts would be "a cause for concern," but that student-athletes would rather have the opportunity to choose a sport rather than have no sports at all, and he's glad athletic directors and other administrators will have an opportunity to vote on these scenarios. 

Referencing a similar proposal where interscholastic sports would not start until January and each season would be completed in 10 weeks, Brown does not support Season Adjustment B — he termed them "mini seasons" — due to the possible lack of rest. 

"I'm completely against that. I don't know if I'm in the minority or majority," Brown said. "I think kids would have enough stressors on their plate as it is, knowing the learning format would be digital and also trying to navigate through these mini seasons. I want kids to have an opportunity. I'm just concerned with that short season of pushing kids so hard."

There is also athletics outside of scholastic competition to consider. Like many programs, Auburn lacrosse participates in offseason tournaments and leagues that are not associated with the school system. Dean is unsure if those organizations would be willing to comply with a change in the high school athletic calendar.

"We'd have to coordinate with tournament directors, Ultimate Goal, our box lacrosse league. Those entities that aren't directly tied to the school system but are things we take advantage of to play games, they might say, 'Hey, we need some money, we've got to generate money,'" Dean said. "They might not be willing to push an indoor season back or tournament directors might not be willing to shift. All of them would have to understand the situation and kinda get on board and accommodate for the shift in the scholastic season, and I don't know if they'd be able or willing to do that."

Is this a one-year solution or the new normal?

There has been no indication if the task force's scenarios would be solely for the 2020-21 academic year, or if changes would continue beyond the coronavirus pandemic. 

If Season Adjustment A or B are one-year solutions and the athletic calendar reverts back to normal for the 2021-22 school year, that could create extended breaks for several sports. For example, in Season Adjustment A, girls lacrosse would end Dec. 5, 2020 and not return until March 2022 — a span of 15 months. 

"Yeah, that would be awful," Dean said. "We would have to be creative (with the offseason program) and give them small breaks here and there to get them some rest. We'd have to roll with it and see what happens, but that's a long time from one competitive season to your next competitive season."

There's also a flip side. Football, for example, would wrap up June 12, 2021 but then return sometime in August, leaving student-athletes with only two months of rest. 

In that instance, Brown believes football coaches would have to be smart about giving their players a break, but that "kids are resilient and I think they'd easily be able to handle it."

As a first-year head coach at a small school, Piascik thinks the opportunity to recruit football players during the school year, as opposed to during the summer, would be beneficial for his program. He doesn't see a major advantage or disadvantage to a change to the athletic calendar, but does concede that some form of change is inevitable.

"Your season is your season, if it's eight weeks or if it's 13 weeks. Whether it's in March or in August, I don't think there's a major impact," Piascik said. "With this whole situation, things are gonna change. I'm getting chills thinking of the scheduling issues, the officials. All of that stuff back to back, it's gonna be tough. Our section and our league and our state will hopefully do what's right and what's safe for the kids. 

"Do we want to be playing? Yes, but kids being safe is No. 1. Whatever they deem will do that, I'm gonna support it and we'll adjust from there."

Sports reporter Justin Ritzel can be reached at 282-2257 or at justin.ritzel@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenRitz.

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Sports Reporter

Justin Ritzel is a sports reporter for The Citizen. Justin has been covering high school sports and minor league baseball in Cayuga County since 2015.

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