Bill Bryant

Ithaca High School football coach Bill Bryant gives instruction during his team’s first practice of the season.

Sometimes it feels as if the ability to peer into the future would be a real gift.  Other times, it feels as if it would be a curse.

Had anyone told us in March of 2020 that we would not only miss spring sports, we would also miss the fall and winter seasons and as 2021 rolled out, we’d still be facing so much uncertainty, some of us might have taken that person’s crystal ball and thrown it off a bridge.

While there are many opinions regarding who is to blame for this ongoing frustration, one thing is for sure: There are enough moving parts involved in this boondoggle to make a person’s head spin.

Risking a 50 year friendship, I called Bill Bryant — yet again — and asked the executive director of the Interscholastic Conference to bring me up to speed on whether we will see any high school sports in the near future. Making it clear that his frustration is not directed at media members (or at the hundreds of parents that have been lighting up his phone and his inbox for 10 months), Bryant told me, “Yes, I am very frustrated, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, the news dropped last Friday at 3:30 p.m. that the state government was putting the decisions in the hands of local Health Departments. It seems they could have done it differently. They could have told us that in November.”

Bryant has been in athletic administration in various forms for 30-plus years, so he is accustomed to navigating numerous layers to get things done, but this is new territory for everyone. Using the IAC as an example, he told me, “We have schools in seven different counties, and as you can imagine, getting seven different Health Departments on the same page is unlikely.” To put a finer point on his contention, he added, “Tioga County will likely restrict travel within the five schools in the county, so that will add Owego — a STAC team — to the mix, having them play schools like Newark Valley, Tioga, Candor, Spencer and Waverly.”

Frustrated but undaunted in their efforts to get the players back on the fields, the powers-that-be hustled to assemble a committee to move the process forward. The 17-person committee is composed of superintendents, athletic directors, Health Department officials, a principal and an athletic trainer, and Bryant said he “appreciated how proactive this process has been.” I was pleased to hear chuckle a bit when he added, “I am the least tech-savvy guy you will ever meet, and I have been in over a hundred Zoom meetings so far.”

Indeed… old dog, new tricks.

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I also reached out to the athletic communications contacts at Cornell and Ithaca College, and Jeremy Hartigan and Justin Lutes said, “Sorry, but we are still waiting for updates.” 

There is actually some news from TC3, as the Panthers have made the decision to move forward with outdoor spring sports (men's lacrosse, baseball, softball, golf, and men's and women's soccer.)  NJCAA (Junior College)-affiliated schools were given three options: Cancel intercollegiate athletics altogether, hold on-campus workouts and training without holding any games, or return to competition. TC3 joined a dozen institutions in Region 3 to vote to get the students back in the games. The Panthers stepped up to hold their cross-country season last fall — with no spectators allowed — and similar modifications will be implemented when the spring sports events get underway.

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As I have written many times over the years, given my long tenure as a local sports media guy, I am often asked for my opinion on sports-related stuff.  After the Bucs beat the Pack, an acquaintance stopped me and asked me if I was among the legions of “Brady-haters.”

I don’t get it… The guy has maintained an incredible level of excellence at the highest level of his craft over the course of 20 years, doing things a handful of people on the planet can do at half his age. He grew weary — for whatever reasons — of playing for the same guy in the same organization in the same city for two decades, so rather than take his six Super Bowl trophies and his truckloads of money and go away, he went to a new team in a new conference in a new city, he elevated the play of the entire organization — as usual — and he’s going to the Super Bowl for the tenth time. I stand in awe.

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