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Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019: Recap of this week's NYSPHSAA meeting

   Leading off today: I was on the fence until the last minute about traveling from Rochester to Saratoga Springs on Thursday for the NYSPHSAA Executive Committee meeting. The agenda was full of rather run-of-the-mill matters -- not unreasonable after a run of five or six quarterly meetings with multiple complex or controversial topics -- and I'm getting too old to roll out of bed at 4 a.m. to drive four hours.

   Still, I made the trip after rationalizing that there was an interview that I wanted to do anyway and there was always the possibility of something interesting arising out of the blue.

   For awhile, the best shot at "something interesting" was the power failure that sent the room dark and cut off the air conditioning half an hour into the meeting. As it turns out, however, the day would get much more interesting.

   First, a recap of the key votes and actions taken in a meeting that was over in a tidy 2 hours, 45 minutes.

    • The proposal to conduct the season-ending New York State Public High School Athletic Association and Federation individual wrestling championships as one tournament was approved. That does away with the dual sets of medals awarded. Instead, the wrestlebacks will now conclude with eight places being awarded rather than six.

    • Logistics for the purchases will need to be worked out, but the Executive Committee approved the proposal to require the use of InBody scale systems for wrestling's weight certification program.

    • The BEDS data that will determine classification placements for schools in the 2020-21 season was approved.

    • Metal cleats were approved for softball, with that sport's committee also getting an OK to extend the abolition of the international tiebreaker to all state tournament games instead of just the final fours.

    • Baseball's proposal to make the availability of the 10-run mercy rule permanent (subject to section and league approval) also passed.

    • The Mark Twain Golf Course in Section 4 was approved as the host of the next three boys state golf tournaments beginning in 2020.

   Also noted during Thursday's session:

    • The February 2020 meeting will likely include a vote by the NYSPHSAA to endorse having the Basketball Coaches Association of New York operate the NCAA-approved boys basketball camp for players across the state.

    • The organization is in discussions with Spalding on a three-year extension of the exclusive ball contract. However, NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas noted that sales through the third year of the existing five-year deal have not been what Spalding had anticipated, with the consequence being that the equipment company is offering less money than what is now being distributed annually to the 11 sections.

    • The ice hockey committee is proposing an addition to the list of what's subject to video replay reviews in the state tournament. If approved early next year, on-ice officials will be able to review whether the puck was kept inside the blue line in certain situations.

    Interspersed with all of the above were two interesting discussions, both of which were lengthy and will continue at the sectional level between now and the February meeting -- at which time they'll likely generate more discussions by the Executive Committee, which consists of two representatives from each of the 11 sections.

    The first had to do with the most recent financial snapshot, which NYSPHSAA Director of Finance Lisa Hand provides at each quarterly meeting, and the minutes of the most decent audit committee meeting.


    Though the NYSPHSAA is on solid ground financially, the latest projection of post-retirement obligations is about $1.5 million. Additionally, auditors have suggested boosting the fund balance to two years of operating expenses -- considered to be a best financial practice.

   With that in mind, the NYSPHSAA has proposed increasing annual dues for member schools by $40 a year in each of the next five years. Not factoring in the investment income that could be derived along the way, the dues increase would add at least $450,000 over those five years.

   That would do the trick, right? Well, it's not simple.

   Section 9 representative Roberta Greene started a discussion on the floor regarding the budgeting process and several cost overruns the NYSPHSAA experienced in the recently concluded fiscal year, the implication being that similar overruns in subsequent years could consume much of the projected dues increase.

   Some of the overruns look like one-time hits: More than half the $20,370 miss on marketing expenses is due to bills arriving too late to be handled in the previous budget year, and the departure of a tenant in the NYSPHSAA's office has created a $44,455 miss on revenue on that budget line.

   On the other hand, the organization exceeded its $202,500 championship transportation budget by $62,777 and its $67,600 meetings and travel budget by $22,185. Those numbers are going to be more difficult to get under control, and the increases of about 3 and 10 percent, respectively, in the current budget will barely make a dent.

   If those budget lines are showing significant overages by the time the May meeting rolls around, I could envision the football site

Central Committee being asked to adopt changes to the budget procedure at its annual meeting next summer.

   The other robust discussion was half philosophical, half logistical and 100 percent interesting. That tends to happen when the subject of eSports -- also variously known as online gaming or virtual/connected events -- gets raised.

   The NYSPHSAA has had an ad hoc committee looking at eSports for awhile, and that group came back earlier this year with a recommendation for the Executive Committee to get involved. The proposal on the table for now is to conduct a two-year pilot program in conjunction with an outside vendor.

   Ask me twice for my opinion on the merits of eSports and I'll probably give you three different responses. Despite its moniker, I have trouble treating it as a "sport." I'm not alone in that regard, because it felt as though about a third of the room on Thursday shares that sentiment.

   So, right off the bat there's the question of whether an organization that has the phrase "athletic association" in its name should be getting involved. Then again, that organization has the phrase "public high school" in its name but nevertheless allows private schools as members.

   It's hardly simple.

   The governing bodies for high school sports in some states also run the marching band, debate and robotics competitions and have a hand in drama clubs. Some NYSPHSAA sections run badminton and fencing as locally administrated sports that are not overseen at all at the state level. Mean- while, there's a clay-target shooting league across New York poten- tially large enough to qualify as a bona fide state championship that has absolutely no connection to the NYSPHSAA at this time.

   Zayas makes the point that the NCAA is moving in the direction of embracing eSports (mult- iple schools offer scholar- ships) and the Inter- national Olympic Com- mittee is pondering introducing competition in Paris in 2024.

   I care little about the IOC -- they've junked up the Winter Games with freak-show events over the past two decades -- but I buy into the related argument: If the NYSPHSAA does not take charge of the administration of eSports in its schools, some other outfit will. Like it or not, the gaming phenomenon is real and it isn't going away; it's already a club activity at multiple New York schools that have affiliations with a handful of organizations looking to be recognized as the national leader.

   For the time being, the issue is being sent to the Championship Philosophy Committee for more analysis and feedback. There's no way that discussions at the next couple of state meetings will be brief.

   Midway through Thursday's 20-minute discussion -- that's an unusually long time for these meetings -- during which many of the 50 or so delegates and other officials spoke, NYSPHSAA President Paul Harrica did something that provided me with a moment of clarity that made my eight-hour round trip worth it.

   The youngest person in the room was Stillwater junior Devon Wagner, a member of the NYSPHSAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee who was in attendance to give a brief report and to observe an organization with close to 800 member schools.

   Harrica stopped to ask the teen her opinion of eSports and whether it was something that the NYSPHSAA should be getting involved in. Suddenly a room that normally has the background noise of three of four sidebar conversations went quiet in order to give full attention.

   What she said isn't as important as how she said it. Wagner gave a thoughtful, organized response off the top of her head. It was a figurative palm-to-the-forehead moment for me and likely some others. Imagine that. A discussion was taking place about the future of an activity dear to many young people across New York, and somebody remembered to ask one of the young people for an opinion.

   Chalk that up as a win for the process.

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