GENEVA — When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the list of sports allowed to return to play this fall, football was expressly highlighted as a “high-risk” sport.
As of now, teams will only be permitted to practice until a safe plan to return to play is put into place — and, in all likelihood, that won’t happen.
Geneva football head coach Mike Pane serves on the Section V Football committee, and though it is a disappointment, the ruling did not come as much of a surprise.
“This is a combination of excitement and disappointment in a sense,” Pane said about the decision concerning football. “Given the way things have gone, obviously football is a high-risk given the level of contact and proximity. Any coach and (athletic director) will tell you the kids’ and coaches’ safety is the first and foremost most important thing. That’s our concern.”
Clyde-Savannah head coach Stephen Record had a similar sentiment of dismay but too had safety front of mind.
“I think it’s an obvious decision,” Record said over the phone with a tone of sadness. “You can’t be in a huddle six inches apart from the guys around you and then you got 11 guys across the (line) and you’re sweaty, you’re tackling, you’re touching and there’s no way to social distance to stay safe. Even with face shields, you’re touching every body every play, so it’s really hard to come up with a way not to do that unless you play flag football.”
Despite tackle football’s grim outlook for competition, Pane says that as a coach and Section V football committee member, he and his colleagues will be busy in the coming weeks to determine a definitive course of action.
“We’re planning a follow-up meeting very soon,” Pane said of the Section V football committee. “We’re going to try to do everything we can to get the kids an opportunity to play games — that’s the goal — in the fall, but obviously our hands are tied to a certain extent.”
Record would have been entering his second year at the helm of the Golden Eagles, and the disappointment resonates with him as well, but like Pane, he understands the ruling given the circumstances and in fact, looks to the positives.
“Always glad we can have practice to work on technique and go through plays and work on stuff, so that’s always good,” Coach Record said.
As in every aspect of life, looking for the positives is essential in any grim situation, but the challenges cannot be ignored.
The biggest hurdle as things look now is that without games to look forward to, players will be less motivated to put on the pads when they could try their hands, or feet, at another sport that has an opportunity to play games, such as soccer.
“Let’s face it, there are some sports in the fall that kids will have competition,” Pane began. “You might have kids that choose to play another sport in the fall that has games or contests. I don’t know what the numbers would look like and I don’t know how hard it would be to get kids to commit to X amount of practices without that game. I think it definitely will effect motivation and turnout.”
Even if football was permitted to play games, safely organizing and playing a Friday night football game would be a tall task given the parameters that schools are only allowed to compete within a certain geographical area.
As a result, scheduling games between schools of similar size and caliber, football matchups can be quite widespread. For example, Hornell and Geneva played a football game in 2019; the two schools are over an hour’s drive apart. That matchup would not be possible even if football was allowed to be played.
Not having high school football seems like an American right has been taken away, but given the events that have transpired since March, it is a joy to be able to have sports again. Even if the situation results in no games this fall, coaches like Pane and Record serve as a reminder to squeeze every drop of positives from an unwanted situation.
“The positives are that we are going to get kids doing stuff in a lot of sports and the very least in football,” Pane said. “If (teams) decide not to do on the field stuff, you can get kids in the weight room, you can start conditioning again and things like that. Kids having those opportunities are going to be really beneficial.
“In football, there’s not that light, not those games, yet, but there is the ability to practice, and do things as a program and as a team and that’s a positive.”
Rest assured though, if the numbers and state allows games to be played, Section V will be ready.
“We have to prepare a schedule if given the opportunity to play games,” Pane said. “Section V does have a 7-game federation schedule prepared and ready to go, but again, we have to be prepared if it ends up being a 5-game season.”
For anyone that loves football, not having games will be a tough pill to swallow, but safety comes first, and if that can be achieved and football can squeeze a few games in, it will be all the more worth it.