WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WKBW) — Following a COVID-19 outbreak on McQuaid Jesuit High School's football team, questions arose on whether or not they would come to Williamsville South and play the Bennett Tigers. Ultimately, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA), the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH), and Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz all weighed in.
McQuaid tried to force the game to be played by judicial order, in contravention of health departments standards, but to the credit of @NYSPHSAA they postponed the game until a full court hearing can be held in the next few days. I would have postponed it if necessary. 2/2— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) November 20, 2021
The Far West Regional game for Class AA was not played as scheduled on Saturday night.
The McQuaid Jesuit Knights, who are based in Rochester, saw their outbreak begin on Tuesday. They had already won the Class AA championship in Section V. After Mark Poloncarz tweeted that the game would ultimately be canceled, McQuaid Jesuit issued a lengthy statement detailing the events.
"Per McQuaid Jesuit's protocols, the varsity football team was placed on a 72-hour pause for contact practice, effective the evening of Tuesday, November 16, after two members of the team tested positive for COVID-19. With guidance received from the Monroe County Department of Public Health, McQuaid Jesuit tested all playes and coaches for three consecutive days beginning THursday morning. All coaches and players, whether vaccinated or not, were tested Thursday, Friday, and again [Saturday] morning with negative tests each day required to participate... Testing did result in several more positive cases, which have been reported to the Department of Public Health. Any members of the program who tested positive were immediately required to isolate."
Even though McQuaid Jesuit football competes in NYSPHSAA's Class AA, the school's own COVID-19 protocols do not necessarily match that of the association. The NYSPHSAA's language regarding championship and playoff venues was drafted and circulated in September 2021. It reads in part as follows:
"NYSPHSAA will honor and abide by all terms, conditions and restrictions imposed by the scheduled and contracted venue for matters impacting and protecting public health. Public health restrictions may include, but are not limited to, capacity limitations, screening and testing protocols, vaccination requirements, etc."
By defaulting the terms, conditions, and restrictions to its championship venues, the ultimate say-so is in the hands of ECDOH. McQuaid Jesuit sought a judicial order for the game to be played. While the game has been delayed, it has not been forfeited. Another part of the NYSPHSAA's language on championships and playoffs that circulated in September reads as follows:
"The member school will work in conjunction with their local county department of health to determine if they can continue participating in the NYSPHSAA Regional and/or State Championship. It shall be the responsibility of the member school to inform NYSPHSAA’s Executive Director of their ability to continue participating in accordance with the released event schedule. No game dates or times, event schedules, etc. will be adjusted or revised to accommodate an impacted school (i.e., quarantine, contact tracing, etc.)."
Last spring, when there were no state playoffs beyond Section titles, Bennett saw their season cut short. An inflexibility of the playoff schedule forced the Tigers to forfeit their Class AA playoff game on May 7, 2021. That same inflexibility appears to be the case for state playoffs this season.
The state semi-final game that the winner would advance to is already scheduled for November 27. It is to be played at Cicero-North Syracuse High School in Onondaga County at 6:00 p.m. The above language would indicate that both this weekend's games, and next weekend's games, should not be moved.
Section VI issued a statement saying that they intend to fight for rescheduling to not take place, which would in turn advance the Section VI representative, the Bennett Tigers, to the state semi-finals.
“Although we are sensitive to the virus impacting students and a coaching staff anywhere, it is our position that McQuaid should have traveled to Erie County with the ample number of players that they had available that met ECDOH regulations,” Section VI President Brett Banker said in a statement Saturday night. “Since that did not occur, we will be asking the Executive Director of NYSPHSAA to declare a forfeit and move a very-deserving, Bennett High School team forward in the state championships. We intend to cite NYSPHSAA’s own language regarding an inability to alter the post-season schedule... “McQuaid made the decision, and chose to not comply with ECDOH restrictions. By forcing Bennett to possibly delay into next week creates an unfair competitive disadvantage for their athletes and does not help ensure the health and safety of this team. We are not interested in creating that scenario.”
The NYSPHSAA was ultimately the organization that postponed the game. While the Erie County court had also granted the postponement, the NYSPHSAA's language from the start of the academic year would indicate that McQuaid Jesuit's situation is one that would cause the Knights to forfeit the Far West Regional game to Bennett.