As of Wednesday morning’s New Mexico Activities Association’s board of directors meeting, nearly two-thirds of its 155 member schools had opted in for fall sports and were ready to begin competition as early as Feb. 27.
NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez told the board that only 14 percent of all schools had said they will not participate until the traditional winter sports calendar begins in late March. Those that remain undecided have been asked to make a declaration this week.
“We are very hopeful that the majority of our schools will be able to be in, and we are even more hopeful that almost all of them will be in at least by the winter sports,” Marquez told the board.
The linchpin for Santa Fe High is the course taken by Albuquerque Public Schools. The state’s largest school district makes up most of the teams in Santa Fe High’s football district, so Albuquerque’s decision to remain in remote learning during a Wednesday night school board meeting will have a direct impact on the Demons — and most other teams in the 6A and 5A classifications.
The Albuquerque district makes up nine of the 20 schools in 6A football and three of the 18 spots in 5A.
Minus Albuquerque’s schools, the NMAA can move forward with building schedules for fall sports. Marquez held a meeting Wednesday afternoon with the state’s athletic directors, covering the guidelines for what the Public Education Department’s goals are for the hybrid-learning model that must be in place two weeks before sports can resume.
“We’re ready to go,” Marquez said. “So we’re hopeful that we will have our first cross-country meets a week from this weekend.”
Not all the news was good.
The loss of revenue from gate receipts has made for significant financial losses for the NMAA. Marquez reported that the association is down $425,000 since July. It follows on heavy losses the NMAA endured by canceling spring sports and banning fans for the final three days of last year’s state basketball tournament, moves that Marquez previously said cost the association about a half million dollars.
“We have reserve and we have that extra,” Marquez said, referring to a war chest of reserve funding the NMAA began setting aside more than a decade ago.
She said corporate sponsorships remain strong and that the NMAA had secured a deal Tuesday with the National Guard that makes it a primary sponsor through the end of the year.
The board took action on a couple of key items, including a revised policy for football practice, eligibility of early graduates and eligibility for students attempting to transfer from a school that has opted out into a one that offers sports.
The NMAA will allow football teams to cut the minimum number of preseason practices from 10 to eight, restricting full-pads contact to the second week of drills. Schools meeting the Public Education Department requirements for hybrid learning can begin workouts Monday, if they haven’t done so already. Games can begin as early as March 4, and the NMAA will announce a slate of games before the end of the month.
The board approved a measure that allows seniors who graduated in December to participate in sports through the end of the school year. It came with the caveat that students must remain in their parents’ or legal guardians’ residence the entire time. The measure passed with a 10-2 vote.
It similarly approved a measure that prevents athletes from transferring out of one school and into another — including those who left the state during the NMAA’s shutdown and now want to come back — from gaining eligibility until next school year. The lone exception is Santa Fe Indian School. The board previously voted to allow SFIS athletes to compete for schools in their hometowns.
In other items, NMAA Associate Director Dusty Young told the board that the NMAA Foundation will offer 40 college scholarships this year totaling about $45,000. The association will seek help from schools to get the word to outgoing seniors looking for college assistance.
The NMAA’s commissioner of officials, Dana Pappas, told the board that she has hosted 130 webinars over 122 dates for referees and game officials since April. While participation for those meetings has exceeded in-person events in the past, she said a number of officials have decided not to work or will wait until next school year after the NMAA adopted a mandatory mask protocol during the pandemic.
“We’re supportive of that,” Pappas told the board. “Kind of knew it was coming, but working through that and most of them have plans to come back next year.”
She said she estimates 85 percent of her officials have decided to work for what remains of the school year. That’s a number, she said, that’s better than those of many other states. Only about 30 officials have told the NMAA they will not work under the current conditions, citing possible exposure to COVID-19 to maintaining a steady income for their families.
“We’re doing OK, and I think we’re doing better than I thought we would,” Pappas said. “I know there’s been a concern about the overlap, but we keep telling them there’s always an overlap. In a condensed season I think everybody’s kind of panicking, but I think we’ll be OK. We’re just hoping that some of the people that have pushed the pause button decide to ... join with us once it gets going.”
The board discussed a few items, including classification and alignment for the two-year block beginning in the 2022-23 school year. It will become an action item in December and, until then, the NMAA will closely monitor student enrollments that are sure to fluctuate wildly for schools hit hardest by the pandemic.
Marquez also told the board that a small group of parents requested an extra year of eligibility for outgoing seniors, something similar to what the NCAA has done. College seniors have been granted permission to return to competition in the 2021-22 school year even if they’ve graduated.
NMAA bylaws prohibit students from competing if they turn 19 before the start of the school year in question has begun.