The decision on Tuesday by athletic officials to cancel all high school spring sports on Long Island was the right call, given the large number of COVID-19 cases.
However, that does not mean all hope should be given up for other upstate sections. The numbers appear headed in the right direction, and a couple more weeks of social distancing should help in flattening the curve, but how much remains to be seen.
Naturally, there will be some areas that have hot spots of infection and others with lower incidences. A blanket approach of shutdowns clearly doesn’t work as evidenced by the growing number of protests across the country to open up businesses, schools and life as we knew it only six weeks ago. However, with education control under one central state body, it is doubtful local autonomy would be granted for deciding the course of the future – what’s bad for New York City and its suburbs is bad for the rest of us, I am afraid.
Section 9 athletic officials will gather shortly to discuss the possibilities. You can be sure it will be a contentious meeting, with some school superintendents likely to call for no return to the closed school buildings as we ride out the pandemic, and no return means no athletics and other school activities. However, there will surely be a voting bloc that will point to numbers in their districts and demand a return to normalcy because, frankly, how long can we stay secluded in our homes?
Neither side is right or wrong, because no one for sure knows whether the virus will claim more substantial numbers. It is a roll of the dice – the question is how do we like the odds?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has the state locked down until May 15, so let’s operate on the assumption that schools reopen at that time. The obvious questions will follow: Should the school calendar be extended into later June or July? Will graduation dates stay the same? How will unions react to any changes to the contracts? Could athletics extend past the “end” of the school year, much the way college baseball tourneys are scheduled?
At this point, I am less inclined to think high school sports will return this spring, only because I believe school officials would rather lean toward being safe than sorry, and that is their responsibility.
State athletic officials, too, are going over scenarios for resumption, and executive director Dr. Robert Zayas is expected to make a decision on Monday. Let me make one part of his decision easy: Cancel all state tournament play right now. The decision by Nassau and Suffolk counties to not play this spring waters down any state tourney. And trying to squeeze in any legitimate schedule of games before traditional section cut-off dates is impossible.
My hope is, given the end of the state lockdown, that Section 9, the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association and Mid-Hudson Athletic League would focus on establishing abbreviated schedules focusing on league play. You can forget playing those 18-game regular-season schedules. Toss in a couple non-league contests to open the season and jump right into league play. A sectional tournament would be a bonus, but, perhaps, think about letting the top two teams in a league square off for a title.
There would be little support to extend any regular season past the second weekend of June. Let’s face it, we want our sports back but, pandemic or not, try telling some parents who have been cooped up for nearly two months to give up their annual vacation (if they can still afford it) once the last two weeks of June arrive.
Frankly, the greatest fear is for the next school year. Cuomo cited Tuesday that nearly 20 percent of public school funding will go away without federal assistance, and that becomes a harder sell after a couple trillion dollars has been handed out by time this coronavirus crisis is over. Taxes are sure to go up to make up for shortfalls, school budgets will become more scrutinized and budget votes will no longer be assured passage – and the first thing that goes are extracurriculars, including athletics. I doubt cupcake sales and 50-50 tickets are going to make up the difference.
This pandemic will have long-term effects on our society and our local sports.