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NMAA seeks to adjust in new reality

NMAA executive director Sally Marquez

The New Mexico Activities Association, through its board of directors, hopes to do quite a bit of COVID-19-related housekeeping on Wednesday.

The board meets Wednesday morning, facing an extensive agenda that will weigh heavily toward possible updates/changes in NMAA bylaw language specific to this coronavirus-impacted 2020-21 school year.

Among the many items the board is scheduled to hear and vote on is the NMAA staff recommendations for the shape and nature of the playoffs in various team sports.

All sports will see a reduction in playoff qualifiers, whether it’s an individual sport or team sport. How teams will be selected, precisely, is what will be voted on Wednesday by the board which is composed largely of superintendents from around the state.

The NMAA Commission, which meets a week or two ahead of the board, recently voted to continue to give district champions an automatic bid to their state tournament.

But with fewer at-large bids now up for grabs because of reduced playoff fields, it is almost a guarantee that some excellent teams will miss out on the postseason because of the limited at-large slots available – if the board votes the same way as the Commission.

In Class 5A basketball, for example, there will only be three at-large bids instead of the usual 11. There are five districts and 28 schools. A district champion from an average or below-average district could, and probably will, push aside a superior second- or third-place team from a more competitive league, if this change is locked in for this school year.

In 4A, the situation would be even more difficult, since there are six districts and 29 schools, leaving just two at-large bids from among 23 teams. In 1A basketball, it’s seven districts and 42 schools, so if this is punched through, that means one at-large bid from 35 teams in that class.

“It will be interesting to see what the board does,” NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said.

There are a handful of other bylaws whose language will probably be revised temporarily, depending on the board.

• Usually, athletes must compete in 25 percent of their regular season to be eligibile for the postseason. The NMAA wants to remove that bylaw for 2020-21. This would be welcome news for athletes who have overlapping sports next spring/summer, and could be severely limited in their appearances in one of those sports.

• The NMAA does not want to penalize schools that miss contests due to COVID-19. Marquez said any missed events will be considered no contests rather than forfeits, with an effort to try to make them up if possible.

• Schools that want to schedule out-of-state competition – especially against schools from Texas or Arizona – won’t be restricted from leaving the state, but they are going to be subject to the governor’s quarantine guidelines when they return. Colorado does not fall under this umbrella.

• The NMAA has a bylaw that says schools have to play all their district games in order to qualify for state. Allowing for the possibility that some districts might be impacted by the coronavirus, that is being changed for 2020-21 to 51 percent of district games. And there won’t be any tie-breaking games in any district; winning percentage in league games will determine the first-place and second-place teams, and perhaps a third-place team, too.

• Another bylaw that’s going to come up is the one that addresses athletes playing multiple seasons in the same sport.

If, for example, a football athlete in New Mexico leaves the state to play this fall in another state, they can’t come back and compete in football next spring in New Mexico.

“That rule was already in,” Marquez said. “We’re just bringing attention to it.”

• Athletes will not be gaining extra seasons of eligibility if their season has been lost, or could be lost in the future, to COVID-19.

NOTES: Marquez said she is still working with club soccer officials to see if there might be a way for soccer athletes to do both high school and club seasons in the spring. … Powerlifting is expected to officially be added as an activity. … If any team opts out of a season due to safety concerns, or because the Department of Health steps in, they won’t be financially penalized by the NMAA.

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