Syracuse, N.Y. — The New York State Public High School Athletic Association on Friday night announced its return to play guidelines for fall high school sports.

Scholastic athletic activities have been prohibited since last spring, when they were shut down because of the coronavirus.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently said lower-risk sports, such as tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey and swimming, can begin practicing and then playing in all regions of the state on Sept. 21. High-risk sports such as volleyball and football can begin practice but not yet play.

Cuomo also said it’s up to individual school districts to decide, after digesting the guidelines, whether or not to run fall seasons in some or all of the sports.

Section III executive director John Rathbun, who helped write the guidelines, called them a “great roadmap” for schools to use as they assess whether to hold sports this fall. Rathbun said he doesn’t have a sense of which way any individual districts are leaning.

“I think it’s going to help school districts on making a decision,” Rathbun said Friday morning. “It’s well-written, it’s well put-together. Hopefully it’s beneficial for our schools.”

If districts want to postpone fall sports, the NYSPHSAA has formulated a Plan B that could try to squeeze all three sports seasons into a timeframe after Jan. 1.

Here’s an overview of some of Friday’s fall recommendations:

Risk definitions:

Low Risk

Lower risk sports and recreation activities are characterized by:

  • Greatest ability to maintain physical distance and/or be performed individually;
  • Greatest ability to (1) avoid touching of shared equipment, (2) clean and disinfect any equipment between uses by different individuals, or (3) not use shared equipment at all.

Moderate Risk

Moderate risk sports and recreation activities are characterized by:

  • Limited ability to maintain physical distance and/or be done individually;
  • Limited ability to: (1) avoid touching of shared equipment, (2) clean and disinfect equipment between uses by different individuals, or (3) not use shared equipment at all.

High Risk

Higher risk sports and recreation activities are characterized by:

  • Least ability to maintain physical distance and/or be done individually;
  • Least ability to: (1) avoid touching of shared equipment, (2) clean and disinfect equipment between uses by different individuals, or (3) not use shared equipment at all.

Key recommendations


  • A distance of at least six feet must be maintained among individuals at all times, whether indoor or outdoor, unless safety or the core activity (e.g. practicing, playing) requires a shorter distance. If a shorter distance is required, individuals must wear acceptable face coverings, unless players are unable to tolerate a face covering for the physical activity (e.g. practicing, playing); provided, however, that coaches, trainers, and other individuals who are not directly engaged in physical activity are required to wear a face covering.
  • Students should tell coaches immediately when they are not feeling well.
  • No hugging, high fives, shaking hands, or fist bumps.
  • Athletes are encouraged to shower at home as quickly as possible after practice and games.


  • Consider conducting workouts in “cohorts” of same students always training and rotating together in practice to ensure more limited exposure if someone develops an infection.
  • Keep accurate records of those athletes and staff who attend each practice and game/contest in case contact tracing is needed.
  • Limit game day team/ roster sizes for social distancing purposes.
  • Set clear expectations for student-athletes from day one.
  • Communicate guidelines in a clear and consistent manner to students and parents.
  • No hugging, high fives, shaking hands, or fist bumps.

Parents/ Spectators

  • Spectators must maintain six feet of physical distance between individuals and/or family/household units at all times and all spectators must wear face coverings when they are in common areas and situations where six feet of distancing is not able to be maintained, so long as they are over the age of two and medically able to tolerate such covering.
  • Disinfect student’s personal equipment after each game or practice.


  • Officials are responsible for game management, which does not include monitoring activities on the sidelines, such as social distancing, face coverings, hand washing, symptoms of illnesses and other such issues. This monitoring obligation remains with the responsible parties.
  • Once the contest begins, avoid conversations within six feet with coaches.
  • Officials must pay special attention to playing rules that require distances between players during play.
  • Reminders should be issued for situations that involve hygiene (spitting, etc.).
  • Officials should maintain distance from players if an altercation occurs and minimize the times they are within six feet of others.


Responsible Parties must implement mandatory health screenings, including temperature checks, of students, faculty, staff, and, where applicable, contractors, vendors, and visitors to identify any individuals who may have Covid-19 or who may have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus.

General considerations (applies to all sports)

  • Make sure to emphasize to all participants the importance of washing hands or using hand sanitizer before, during, and after competitions.
  • Schools must ensure facilities have been properly sanitized and have hand sanitizer and disposable masks readily available for practices and contests.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and equipment including balls.  Please use recommendations by ball manufacturers.
  • Social distancing should be maintained during the National Anthem and on sidelines.
  • Outdoor sports may need to extend bench areas to permit social distancing. Indoor sports may need to use bleachers or multiple levels of seating to ensure social distancing.  Schools should consider using paint or tape as a guide for students and coaches.
  • Have a hydration plan and ability to provide water to student-athletes and coaches in a safe manner. Coordinate with visiting teams to ensure that they have safe access to water for their participants.
  • Practice/ competition site – Only essential personnel should be permitted on the practice/ competition site as authorized. These are defined as athletes, coaches, medical personnel/athletic trainers, and officials (competition), etc.
  • Personal Items – It is recommended that each athlete bring their own bag for personal items. All personal items should remain in the bag when not in use. Bags should be placed in a predetermined area six feet apart for the duration of practice or game.

Considerations for school administrators

Teams and Programs:

  • Individual school districts have the authority and autonomy to administer their district’s athletic programs as they deem appropriate.
  • School districts may consider scheduling practices, games and competitions to accommodate bus transportation availability (i.e. start times at 5:30 PM or Saturday and Sunday).
  • The determination of modified, junior varsity, varsity teams is made by individual school districts.

Traveling to competition or games:

  • Make sure to communicate with the host school prior to the competition to discuss plans.
  • Follow all policies and guidelines the host school has communicated.
  • Make sure your team is bringing its own medical supplies and emergency action plans.
  • Students should be made aware of the locker room availability and advised to bring additional shirts or clothing to easily change into, if locker room use is limited or not available.


  • Capacity is limited to no more than 50 percent of the maximum occupancy for a particular area as set by the certificate of occupancy, inclusive of employees and patrons/players/spectators.
  • Measures should be put in place to reduce bi-directional foot traffic of patrons/players/spectators walking through the space using barriers, tape, or signs with arrows on sidewalks, walking paths, aisles, or hallways.
  • Waiting areas (e.g. lines, parking areas) should be re-arranged to maximize social distance among other patrons/players/spectators and minimize interaction with others in the area.
  • The cashier or ticket-taker should wear a face covering when interacting with any patron/player/spectator.

More High School Sports Coverage

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Lindsay Kramer is a reporter for the Syracuse Post-Standard and Got a comment or idea for a story? He can be reached via email at

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