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NMAA unveils delayed — and backloaded — 2020-21 athletic calendar

The Cleveland Storm football team celebrates its 5A title by beating crosstown rival Rio Rancho. Tyler Blodgett reaches for the trophy after the game. (Roberto E Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Assuming COVID-19 doesn’t further interfere, get ready for a 2020-21 prep sports calendar that will extend nearly to July.

The New Mexico Activities Association on Wednesday morning unveiled a radical-looking (and tentative) calendar for the upcoming school year.

Nearly every sport is scheduled to be contested between January and June — there is going to be some overlap between sports — with June 26 slated as the last day for state finals in baseball, softball and large school track and field.

Everything on the new calendar is subject to change, allowing for the volatile nature of the ongoing pandemic that led to the state’s public health order disallowing prep football and prep soccer for the fall.

On tap for the fall are volleyball, cross country and the fall portion of golf. Golf and cross country begin the middle of September, and volleyball starts practice the first week of October, roughly six weeks later than usual.

Other items of note? Basketball will retain use of the Pit the second week of March, wrestling has been moved to spring, and football will run from late February through early May. Also, there will be no overnight travel permitted — including, for now, the postseason, meaning state events could look drastically different, with more games at home or neutral sites — and no regular-season tournaments.

There are going to be postseason modifications (like reduced playoff fields) in many sports; the NMAA said it will announce specific changes soon.

As for the topic of fans, NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said they would allow them, but only if it can be done safely.

“I’m hopeful,” she said. “We do not know at this time.”

Extending through nearly all of June 2021 has the consent of the state’s superintendents. Marquez said in a survey asking if they were good with a much longer sports calendar, 85 percent approved.

Marquez described Wednesday’s rolling out as Plan B. “We will have a Plan C, D, E and F … everything is subject to change. We have to be flexible. Is it ideal? It is not… but it is workable.”

A sketch at each sport going forward:

FOOTBALL: There will be a reduced, 7-game regular season. Playoffs for the larger classes will be shaved to three weeks, down from four. For the upper classes, that means eight playoff qualifiers as opposed to the usual 12.

Football practice begins Monday, Feb. 22, with the state championship games Saturday, May 8.

The first regular-season football games are scheduled for March 4-6, the same time frame as the opening weekend of state basketball. One of the major adjustments to this tightened calendar is teams having only 10-12 days of official preseason before their first football game. Normally, they’d have 2½ weeks, including a scrimmage.

The quarterfinal playoff round is April 23-24, the semifinals (for 2A-6A) April 30-May 1.

Among the immediate unknowns is how schools will adjust their schedules from 10 games down to seven. But teams will play the other schools in their district.

SOCCER: There will be only five days of preseason (starting Feb. 15), with opening games as soon as  Feb. 20.

According to the calendar, soccer is only going to have one week of state tournament playoffs, the week of April 12-17 instead of the usual two. It was not immediately known how many state qualifiers there would be in each of soccer’s three classes.

Soccer’s maximum number of regular-season games is dropping from 20 to 14.

Already, Marquez said, she is talking with local club soccer officials and trying to figure a way for athletes to do club and high school seasons simultaneously during the spring.

BASKETBALL: The season is beginning later and there will be fewer regular-season games (a maximum of 18, down from 26), but at least the season’s conclusion should look familiar.

Practice begins Jan. 4, with games starting Saturday, Jan. 9. March 9-13 will be the second week of the playoffs, their regular slot.

WRESTLING: Normally it is a winter sport, wrestling — because the nature of its close contact, it is being pushed back to the spring and is “the hardest sport” to reconfigure, Marquez said.

First day of practice is Monday, April 5, with state tournaments set for the second week of June.

SWIMMING/DIVING: The first meets can take place Jan. 4. State competitions are listed on two Saturdays — March 13 and March 20. Boys and girls state meets are usually held together on the same day. Marquez said both could still be held on the same day.

SPRING: All five traditional spring sports — baseball, softball, tennis, golf and track and field — can start April 5 with first events on April 10.

Baseball and softball can play a maximum of 20 regular-season games, six fewer than usual. The spring sports seasons will be slightly longer than other sports, since the majority of their 2020 schedule was canceled due to the pandemic.

State tennis (team and individual) is scheduled June 14-19. State golf is Monday and Tuesday, June 21-22.

State baseball and softball are listed as June 21-26, with the large school state track meet June 24-26. The small schools in track will have their state meet the previous week, June 17-19. State track is usually two days of competition; NMAA assistant director Dusty Young said they simply wanted flexibility “if we need it,” he said. “We don’t know where we’ll be by then with regards to travel restrictions and such.”

FALL: State cross country’s state meets will be Nov. 13-14, a little later than its usual season-ending date. Marquez said the NMAA is looking at perhaps shrinking the size of meet fields and staggering start times in deference to pandemic-related crowd concerns.

Volleyball’s first weekend of playoffs (quarterfinals) is Dec. 4-5, with the finals scheduled the following weekend, ending Saturday, Dec. 12.

Volleyball and softball are two sports that are likely to see their double-elimination format at state disappear, at least in this unprecedented of seasons.

“At this time, the state championships dates, times, and locations are fluid to eliminate overnight travel and to eliminate large crowds at a venue,” Marquez said.

NOTES: There will be a three-week period of inactivity for the entire state from Dec. 13-Jan. 4, a time ordinarily filled to the brim with holiday-themed basketball. … The state spirit championships will be held the last weekend in March, their regular date.

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