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Yodice: NMAA’s ‘no overnight travel’ plan is compelling

Local rapper Aize (left) talks with friend and Valley player Seyi Oyeku (with the championship trophy) and other Viking players at Revel following the Vikings’ state championship victory this past spring at the locked-out Pit. The NMAA’s plan for no overnight travel for athletics during the upcoming school year raises questions about how state tournaments will be scheduled. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

It was a movie trailer. For now, little more than that. Something to get us rubbing our hands together in giddy anticipation.

And to be sure, this was a welcome sip of water in this miserable news drought.

But, reality obliges us to stay grounded. Truthfully, we still don’t know how the actual movie will unspool. We can’t say with 100 percent certainty there will even be a movie.

Admittedly, having a full prep calendar to peruse for 2020-21 was a welcome respite from the gloom that has been weighing on us all these last four months. And my goal here is not to be a wet blanket, just to remind everyone how precarious this coronavirus-driven climate remains.

I’m like the rest of you. I want sports. I need sports. I hope this plan succeeds without a hiccup.

Football state championship games in May? Bring them on. I need only decide which Hawaiian shirt to wear. Wrestling in the spring? Sure. A state track meet at the end of June, with temps perhaps approaching 100 degrees? A tad uncomfortable, but a damn sight preferable to no meet at all.

There is certainly much to unwrap in the wake of the rollout Wednesday by the New Mexico Activities Association, which laid out its plans for 2020-21. (And let’s be super clear, the NMAA deserves massive kudos for slaving away on this for months in an effort to ensure that athetes get their chance to shine.)

And there are countless story threads we will be chasing over the ensuing weeks and months.

But, from my chair, the most interesting aspect to all of this is something NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said on Wednesday:

There will be no overnight travel.

Not in the regular season.

And, far more significantly, not in the postseason.

Just chew on that for a moment, and think about the enormous implications of this and how the logistics would alter the landscape of state tournaments.

Now, perhaps things will have changed or been updated before we get to the first of the 2020-21 state events (cross country, the middle of November, and volleyball, the first two weeks in December), and that overnight travel will be approved.

To that end, the NMAA plans to announce its state event plans in a couple of weeks.

But let’s assume for a minute that all the sports play their seasons as currently scheduled, and that the travel restrictions remain in place.

It would jack with so many sports. State golf, for example, is two days, and for years it’s been held at three cities around the state – for 2020, those cities were to be Albuquerque, Hobbs and Farmington.

If state golf centralizes, would golfers play the first round, then drive home, then return the next day for the second round? That would give metro-area golfers a huge competitive advantage. Maybe they’d try to play 36 holes in one day. Maybe there would be a day between the first and second rounds. Who knows?

The challenges would apply, frankly, to most sports on a postseason stage. Football and cross country would be exceptions.

For volleyball, baseball, softball, track, tennis, swimming, wrestling, soccer and basketball, all these sports, in the traditional model, have many teams congregating in the metro area for multiple-day postseason competitions.

Looks like swimming will be broken up into two Saturdays in 2021, so they’ll not have an issue. But the others? With no overnight travel, the NMAA is going to have to get super creative. Reduced playoff fields will address some of this.

Picture how a state basketball tournament might look in March.

The state’s coaches were informed Thursday that state fields will be reduced from 16 teams to eight teams for 2021. All major team sports are seeing similar reductions – football is going from 12 to eight, as another example – and all of these could go back to their original number of state qualifiers depending on the status of the coronavirus.

So, you’d likely have the first-round games at home gyms, like usual, right? Only instead of the 16 seed traveling to the 1 seed in the first round, it would be an 8 vs. 1 matchup in the quarterfinals.

But what next? That’s the major unknown, and we won’t have an answer for a couple of weeks as to the shape of all the playoff formats. (In basketball, my guess would be semifinals and finals at Dreamstyle Arena.)

Everything is so frustratingly speculative. But that’s where COVID-19 has us cornered. It’s all part of this new world we inhabit.

Let’s cross our fingers that a more tantalizing trailer awaits.

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