WEEKLY Q&A INTERVIEW WITH NMAA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SALLY MARQUEZ JULY 20, 2020
New Mexico Activities Association Executive Director Sally Marquez answers questions each week about the ever-changing COVID-19 health pandemic and its effect on high school athletics. Here is this week’s interview with answers about the return to athletics in the 2020-2021 school year.
Since the release of the amended athletics calendar for the upcoming school year, there have been some questions that have come up. A big concern is carryover from one sport to another. What do you say to those athletes who are involved in multiple sports that carryover into one another?
That is what we were concerned about more than anything was the overlap. For those athletes, I want to say, you are able to play all the multiple sports that you participate in. We have talked to all the coaches and all the athletic directors that this is a unique time and so coaches need to work together so athletes can play 2 sports at one time. We don’t have a rule against that. At the schools, make sure you know and identify multi-sport athletes and make sure you communicate as to how we are going to make this work. It’s not ideal, but it is workable and there is really only a 2-week overlap and if the team doesn’t make the playoffs then there really won’t be an overlap. However, between football and spring sports there is a little bit more, but if you look at the calendar, spring sports have been extended so they still have a good 8-10 weeks for a good, solid season.
Are there game limitations for soccer kids who might be involved in high school and club?
We are working together with the club world to decide that and what is best for the kids and the message I have out there for the soccer kids and soccer parents is, don’t panic. We have a long way to go until February, but we are going to make it work and do what is best for the student-athletes. The club world has been very good as to communicating and lets figure this out for the good of all the kids.
Are there any scrimmages allowed?
We are not scrimmaging. If you look at the calendar, you practice 5 days or your 8-9 days and then you start playing, so scrimmages are out. We just had an officials clinic this last weekend and that’s a little bit different for officials because they don’t have that scrimmage time. They are just going in to start playing, so that’s how we are going to do it. That Saturday after the 5 days of practice they can start their competition.
The spring sports calendar runs into June. Does that mean the school year runs until June?
No, every school district is going to be different, but we did do a survey and the superintendents said ‘yes’ whether to compete when school has ended or not and for most schools it will still end at the end of May. But let’s go ahead and give these kids a chance to compete at the end of June. The superintendents have a done a great job and they have been very gracious. So, let’s make this work so that our spring sports who lost that season last year can have a good solid spring season.
Will there be a conflict with spring events competing and graduations?
We’ve always had it, even when we had our state championships the second week of May and mid-May. We’ve always had a graduation problem. I do believe in the middle of the season at the end of May there is going to be some conflict, but at that time it’s not state championships. Those are just games so those athletic directors need to look right now and make sure they don’t have games on those days of graduation.
With a shortened season, what will the playoffs look like?
It will be different. I’ve talked to the coaches and the athletic directors and we are trying to work out the state championship so there is no overnight travel. So, right now in this current July, mid-July, I want to really stress that because its mid-July and what’s going to happen in March and April and May can be totally different then what I’m saying right now. But for right now, we don’t want that overnight travel. It will be that they play a game, maybe at a home site, a week before and then they will come to a central location for the semi’s and finals. But you will see that it will not be back-to-back spending the night. We will make sure they will be able to go home and rest then comeback for their next game.
What are you telling schools and teams that have long distance opponents on the schedule if there are no overnight stays?
The athletic directors are working on their schedules at this point. In football, there are some districts that have some games that are very far apart. So, I have talked to those athletic directors and I said to just meet in the middle. And we’ve also talked to those other athletic directors that may be able to host that game at a neutral site where you can drive 3 hours instead of 6 hours and then both teams drive 3 hours to play and go home. We’ll see that in football, too. In the other sports, I do believe if it’s a very far drive and it’s not a district game, I’ve talked to those athletic directors, you need to find something in your region to replace that very long distance game.
Because of the restrictions against mass gatherings and social distancing guidelines, how do you manage a sport like cross country?
I’m going to send out guidelines this week, probably at the end of the week-beginning of next week. Jackie and I are working tirelessly on it and we have gotten some input from the cross-country coaches and some of the national leaders in cross-country on how to manage a cross-country meet. You know cross-country is a low-risk sport. However, when you put the massive amount of runners on a starting line, then you have changed the low-risk sport to a moderate–risk sport. So, we need to make sure we keep cross-country a low-risk sport. What’s that going to look like? It could be staggered start times, we could have less teams at a meet, you know there’s not going to be 20 teams coming to a meet. There could be 3 or 4 that come. We have talked to those coaches that it’s going to be you drive there and get out of your cars or off the bus and you are going to warm-up, you’re going to run, then you are going to get back on the bus and going to leave. We’ve also even said let’s not have awards ceremonies after the race. So, there’s a lot of changes that can take place to make sure that cross-country remains a low-risk sport.
Will we have middle school sports?
We will. I do know there are some school districts that want to do intramurals and make it a lot easier. However, we have sent those guidelines out with the game limitations and the middle schools will be playing in the same season as the high schools.
If a school starts with all online learning, will we have sports?
What we need to think about is where is the Public Education Department and the Governor’s Office as to where we are with schools. As of today, we are in a hybrid model and the hybrid model means the kids can come to campus and then they will be leaving campus and they will probably bring in another group. Or a school district may say “our hybrid model is a 100% remote learning”, so every school district is going to be different. If the Governor’s Office and the Public Education Department say we are in a hybrid model, then we will have sports. It is when the Governor’s Office or the Public Education Department says “we are in a 100% remote learning” just like we were in March, April, and May, at that point is when we will not be able to have competitions. Back to the question, it is going to depend on where we are within the Governor’s orders and the Public Education Department and right now we are in hybrid, so we are able to have sports.
What if a student-athlete leaves the state in the fall to attend another school, but returns to his or her school in New Mexico in the spring? Is that student-athlete eligible to play?
We have not changed any transfer guidelines when it comes to COVID-19. The only guideline we changed was the scholastic eligibility to start the school year. I am just going on a different topic to get back to your question because, football and soccer, they are used to the fall grades. That’s when they are eligible. Since they have been moved to February, their first semester grades in December will decide their scholastic eligibility. So, that’s real important. I know that wasn’t the question, but that is real important for those soccer and football players to know that your eligibility for scholastic sports will depend on December. Now, going back to your question, as far as the student-athletes, we haven’t changed any guidelines except scholastic eligibility for transfer students. So at this point, they will still follow the transfer guidelines as to being a transfer student if they leave the state and come back.
Will games be allowed over spring break?
Yes, games are allowed and again that’s up to the athletic director whether they want their school to participate during spring break or not. We’ve given them those windows as to this is the season, so that’s a school district decision.
What about athletic classes? How are they affected?
We have no jurisdiction over athletic classes. That is during the school day. If a school district still has athletic classes, whether it’s a hybrid model, then that is fine. The only thing that may happen is some of those high-risk sports like football, soccer and maybe basketball, there might be some guidelines out there as to are we still in pods. Is it minimal equipment? What are the Governor’s orders when it comes to those high-risk sports. But other than that, it is a school district decision.
Will state golf be centralized?
The only reason state golf will be centralized is again because of the overnight travel. Is it easier for them across the state to travel to Albuquerque so they are not going from Farmington to Hobbs or Hobbs to Farmington, the southeast to the northwest? We are looking at that to make sure what courses are the best courses for state golf so they do not have that overnight travel.
So that is still being discussed?
Yes. This is July, state golf is in June. So, who knows what’s going to happen in the next 8 or 9 months. If you think back 8 or 9 months ago, we weren’t even here. We didn’t even know about COVID-19, so anything can change.
The NMAA has released a plan for athletics. What about activities? What guidelines or calendar is being discussed?
I had a meeting with the activities world and a lot of them are going virtual. A lot of the activities they can have are competitions done virtually and they have done that this summer. There are some activities that virtual does not work: bowling, rodeo, some FFA, JROTC, and I will be in communication with them to make sure those kids are able to participate in those activities.
Lastly, we are getting closer to the scheduled start to school. How confident are you that we will have athletics this fall and what are the challenges presented between now and then?
The word that just came out was confident; I want to change that word to hopeful. I am hopeful. We have a good model out there that we are going to be safe and that’s first and foremost, that our student-athletes are safe. But also first and foremost is that we continue to communicate with the Public Education Department and the Governor’s Office as to where we are in this pandemic at the time when school starts, at the time when we have sports ready to begin, where are we? In the last Q&A, I said I had plans C, D, E, F, G and JP I do. We have plans that no matter what the situation is going to be we are going to make this work. Again, is it ideal? No. It’s not ideal, but we can make this work and my goal, whether it’s confident or hopeful, my goal is that we are going to play all sports in the 2020-2021 school year and we are going to play again New Mexico.