Demos: NFHS shares guidelines for sports during COVID-19

Khari Demos

Although COVID-19 has us all out of whack, things are at least looking up on the sports side.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision this week to permit all interscholastic sports to practice on Sept. 21 is huge. Although the competition for the high-risk sports — which includes football, volleyball and cheerleading — is on hold, it is encouraging to know those sports can even begin practice, while the low-risk sports hope to begin play by the first weekend of October.

This past week the National Federation of State High School Associations hosted a media seminar to discuss some of the organization's guidelines and plans heading into the 2020-21 school year. Many states abide by the NFHS' rulebook spanning multiple sports, including New York. As NFHS executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff guided viewers through the program, I was able to take note of some the more intriguing topics discussed.

Of the 50 states in the U.S., 37 have decided to modify their fall sports seasons. Seventeen have committed to no fall football season, including states as close as Massachusetts and Vermont. Fourteen remain status quo and will continue as scheduled.

Unlike New York, some states are also holding off on sports until all students are in class again. There have even been suggestions to reconfigure high-risk sports, like having a 7-on-7 football season or playing outdoor volleyball. Both scenarios were described to be outliers).

One piece that will affect the high school, collegiate and professional ranks is fan attendance. With many schools facing attendance restrictions, the NFHS Network will be offered to said programs so fans can tune into the action. The key here is this can add revenue for the association, as these games are offered through monthly subscriptions.

The NFHS is planning to give back around $5 million to member schools this year as well.

There's also a NFHS learning center for coaches and administrators, highlighting the best things to consider as schools are set to reopen. In addition, it touches on how to best conduct practices, workouts and games in an effort to minimize as much physical contact as possible between athletes.

One of the pieces that really caught my eye was the aerosol studies the organization has been conducting with the University of Colorado and the University of Maryland. Both are in the third month of a six-month study, testing kids and adults using band instruments in close proximity. Through two rounds of testing, the studies have found that masks are most effective in diminishing the aerosol spread of the coronavirus.

Other issues discussed included no-touch water bottle stations, how coaches should be prepping their kids for a possible spring football season and the benefits that sports bring to the student-athletes on physical, mental and social levels.

Arguably my favorite part of the seminar was about kids exploring the intrastate transfer route. Niehoff acknowledged that this is something athletes who are projected to play collegiately are more prone to taking, but she by all means did not discourage it. Having worked in accordance with the NCAA, Niehoff understands how important those moves could be for kids' recruitment into higher-level programs.

I had one specific question to ask, which pertained to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association's "plan B" model for the school year; if the Sept. 21 start date is pushed back for the fall, there will be a condensed three-period model with winter sports going Jan. 4-March 13, fall sports going March 1-May 8 and a spring season from April 5-June 12.

My main concern, like the many people I've spoken with when addressing this issue, is the fact that the fall and spring seasons will have nearly a month's worth of overlap. What does this mean for the youngins who may be playing one sport in college but want to enjoy their high school experience by playing two or three sports?

Niehoff confirmed that the student-athletes will be permitted to play multiple sports at once, but some may have a tough decision on their hands. That is something that concerns me for sure, especially if a kid is a captain on multiple teams and has to pick-and-choose.

But this model doesn't take into effect how some coaches may be put in a bind too. There are many schools in our area where coaches serve as the varsity coach for more than one team, let alone coaching in different districts for different seasons. Let's not forget that some staffs are already handicapped by being undermanned, so this could lead to a wormhole of trouble if it comes about.

And that's the key: it's only if it comes about. NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas confirmed Thursday that the section executive directors throughout the state would meet again Friday, and the COVID task force meeting again early next week for discussions.

This summer had the fall sports season looking like it was on life support. Now it seems as though the fall season is opening its eyes and getting that feeling in its legs back.

But until all is decided, as we've done most of 2020, we sit and we wait it out.

Respond to sports reporter Khari Demos on Twitter @riri_demos or at khari.demos@gnnewspaper.com. Also, be sure to listen to the 'GNN Sports Podcast, on Spotify, Anchor, Apple Podcasts and more.

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