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Sunday, July 26, 2015: Looking ahead to this week's NYSPHSAA meetings

   Leading off today: It was just nine months ago that the New York State Public High School Athletic Association bolstered its transfer rules, making switching schools a somewhat tougher proposition for high school students.

   This week, transfer limitations could trickle down to certain junior-high athletes.

   A proposal originating out of Section 1 earlier this year will go to a vote during the NYSPHSAA's annual Central Committee meetings Tuesday through Thursday in Tarrytown. The measure calls for subjecting seventh- and eighth-grade athletes to the transfer rules if they've made it through the Athletic Placement Process (formerly Selection/Classification) in order to play JV or varsity sports.

   The rationale by advocates is that the younger athletes should be subject to the same transfer rules that ninth- through 12th-graders face if they're already playing alongside and against them.

   As it stands now, few barriers exist for students who seek to transfer before the start of ninth grade. But it's also not clear whether junior-high transfers are an epidemic or if this proposal is a solution in search of a problem. Earlier this year, the NYSPHSAA Handbook Committee recommended collecting data to determine the extent of the issue. In that context, this week's discussion could end in a motion to table the proposal until sectional representatives from around the state have had more time to evaluate.

   I've already heard concerns about how not all schools are configured in the same way. For instance, parents satisfied with a public school district's middle school may have legitimate concerns about sending their child to the high school beginning in ninth grade. One year in a building housing grades 7-12 might be enough for them to have concerns.

   Also, remember how the recession of 2007 caused the NYSPHSAA to make cuts to regular-season schedules and other fiscal changes in the interest of helping member schools save money? Well, it's a reasonable assumption some families cannot afford year after year of private-school tuition. Eighth or ninth grade might be the logical point for them to make the switch out of public schools.

   The action item likely to garner the most attention is actually a proposal that's more or less a formality, albeit more of an attention-grabber than it was even four months ago.

   Thirty-seven states thus far have adopted some form of a transgender inclusion policy for athletics, and New York is expected to become the latest to do so, ending a process that's been at least three years in the making.

   The vote comes on the heels of Gov. Andrew Cuomo lambasting the state Department of Education for failing to take required action to protect transgender students from discrimination. The Democrat and Chronicle recently reported the department sent draft guidelines to the Board of Regents in April, with plans to finalize those this summer.

   (You can examine the State Education Department policy here in a PDF format.)

   The NYSPHSAA delegates are being asked to approve procedures for a biological male who transitions to female to try out for and play on a girls team and vice versa. Schools would have to obtain relatively minimal documentation on a student's gender identity -- a note from a parent, guardian or medical professional -- and make their own decisions on eligibility and accommodations. Appeals would be routed to the state education commissioner.

   Robert Zayas, executive director of the NYSPHSAA, told the paper there currently are 10 or 12 transgender student-athletes known to high school officials.

   In other business, three football-related items will be coming up for a vote:

  • Earlier this year, the football committee asked to lower the minimum number of required preseason practices by one so that athletes missing a session would not have to lose out on valuable experience in the preseason scrimmage as well as the first game. With the NYSPHSAA Safety Committee having signed off on the idea, the proposal will go to a vote in Tarrytown.
  • The football committee also wants to make a small change to enrollment cutoffs for the 2016 season, raising the BEDS ceiling for Class D from 239 students to 249, which would drop an estimated nine schools across the state into the smaller class to help even out a growing disparity between Classes C and D.
  • Delegates are also being asked to tidy up the rule pertaining to the maximum number of football games a team can play, clearing up circumstances when a 10th game is only permitted for teams. As always, sectional winners can play up to three more contests in the NYSPHSAA tournament.
   Some of the other non-football items coming up for a vote include:

  • A proposal by Zayas to realign some staff positions in light of assistant director Bob Stulmaker's retirement. Joe Altieri, director or marketing and media relations, would move into Stulmaker's role, and Joe Agostinelli, media content coordinator, would pick up some of Altieri's old media duties. With new hires for a director of sales and marketing and a special programs coordinator, there would be a net addition of one position in the NYSPHSAA office. Candidate interviews were scheduled for last week.

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  • A proposal aimed at beefing up the sportsmanship standard in the rulebook to allow a sectional athletic committee to extend the suspension of a disqualified player or coach to up to a year if warranted rather that one or two games (or the remainder of the season for a third offense) now on the books.
   Not every item on the agenda will be voted on. Some of the scheduled topics are either strictly informational items or discussion items that may morph into proposals to be voted on down the road.

   Probably the thorniest of them all has to do with the subject of gifts for athletes at state championships. Ten sports currently hand out various goodies -- hats, tote bags, etc. -- to players, with most of the arrangements being tied to contracts with sporting goods companies that provide the official tournament ball.

   Most of those contracts fall by the wayside soon, and Spaulding becomes the official ball in many sports beginning with the 2016-17 school year. The Spaulding contract does not include athlete participation gifts, and Zayas received an advisory from counsel that Title IX concerns should preclude the NYSPHSAA from seeking out or accepting future gifts that are limited to individual sports.

   On the one hand, that's an obvious letdown for athletes in some sports that had been recipients of the gifts. On the other hand, a clear-cut rule should put an end to a fair amount of behind-the-scenes bickering of recent years between sports committees.

   Expect a vote at the NYSPHSAA Executive Committee's October meeting.

   Also slated to be discussed or at least acknowledged:

  • Section 6 is floating an idea to extend the hockey regular season from 20 to 22 games, bowling wants to add a second division to its state tournament and cross country has inquired about going back to five classes after being trimmed to four in 2011.
  • As I noted awhile ago, the football committee has started talking in general terms about adding a sixth state playoff class.
  • The wrestling committee may take another run at a proposal for regional state qualifying tournaments (the last attempt got nuked in the wake of the recession) as well as a dual-meet championship.
  • Outdoor track and field remains frustrated over the inability to institute automatic state-meeting qualifying based on standards met during the season or sectionals.

   Given that swimming has long been allowed to use automatic qualifying, the track and field people seemingly have a grievance that should at least elicit the promise of full-blown consideration. There's not a concern with Title IX implications like with the athlete gifts issue, but the track people can argue the same sort of fairness angle.

   Of course, it's possible that all they'll accomplish is to force swimming to stop automatic qualifying -- certainly not the track community's intent.

   More coming tomorrow: Today's blog covered the bulk of the NYSPHSAA meeting agenda, but I've left out a pair of very newsworthy items -- an interesting proposal that will be discussed but not voted on and a bit of news about some meddling by elected officials (I say "elected officials" because it's too cynical to brand them all as "convicted officials") in Albany.

   I'll lay out the details and share some thoughts about those in Monday's blog.

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