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Football is back on Long Island, but with shorter seasons and no LIC

Oceanside quarterback Charlie McKee looks to execute a

Oceanside quarterback Charlie McKee looks to execute a screen pass during the first half of a Nassau I football game against Massapequa in Oceanside on Nov. 2, 2019. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

High school football is back — but not entirely.

Football’s new look in this COVID era will include a shortened regular-season schedule followed by two rounds of playoffs in both Nassau and Suffolk.

There will, however, be no Long Island Championship weekend for the first time since 1992. Football committee members said there just wasn’t enough time to fit a regular-season schedule with a full complement of playoffs into the eight-week format designed by the sectional offices.

The coronavirus shutdown of all high school sports last fall prompted administrators to schedule all sports into three compressed seasons between January and June, 2021.

In a non-COVID year, a high school football team could play as many as 12 games, including playoffs on Long Island. This year they can max out at eight games.

Football is slated to commence with practices on March 1. The impending start to the season has created a loud buzz on social media but it also has been met with extreme disappointment over the interruption of the Long Island Championships.

"You play for that opportunity to win the LIC and everyone is disappointed that there is no LIC this year," Oceanside coach Rob Blount said. "But we’re happy we’re playing. That was always in doubt. We’re so happy high-risk sports were cleared to move forward."

Blount said the Nassau football committee voted to play a six-game regular season followed by two weeks of playoffs and finish by May 1.

"We gave up the quarterfinal round of playoffs to allow more schools to play a sixth game," he said. "It’s much better to have 56 schools playing in week six than a playoff round with only 32. Our concern is with giving student-athletes the chance to play."

Pat Pizzarelli, the executive director for Section VIII, which governs all of Nassau’s interscholastic athletics, added that playoff games typically held at Hofstra University would be played at the site of the higher seeds.

"We’ll have our four-conference format and crown four champions," he said. "We can’t play at Hofstra because we can’t have more than two fans per player and then we couldn’t afford the venue. If a benefactor wants to come in and pay the bill, we’ll contact Hofstra and try to make it work. But Hofstra is closed to outside groups right now. But we are looking to livestream those title games."

Oceanside’s junior quarterback Charlie McKee has thrown for 50 touchdowns in two years and is excited at the opportunity to compete. Oceanside opens the season at Farmingdale March 13 at 3 p.m.

"Hopefully this season will help me gain more traction in the recruiting process," McKee said. "I need the junior films to send to coaches. When I heard we were playing it was the best news in awhile. We’ve never stopped working out together. We masked up and stayed safe and used the last couple of months to be even more prepared. We didn’t sit back and wait for a decision."

The Suffolk football schedule will look different and end earlier. Suffolk will move from 12-team divisions and align teams in an eight-league lineup with two playoff qualifiers coming from each league. They will play a five-game regular season followed by two weeks of playoffs with conference finals on April 24. Teams that don’t qualify for playoffs will have two crossover games to finish a seven-game schedule.

"We’ll have eight league champions and then four conference champions," said Tom Combs, the executive director of Section XI, which oversees all of Suffolk’s interscholastic athletics. "We’re not hosting playoffs at Stony Brook so we’ll be playing at the higher seeds."

Sayville coach Reade Sands, who led the Golden Flashes to the Suffolk Division III title last year, had mixed feelings about the season.

"We were given the impression that we would have an LIC," said Sands. "I didn’t think the one-week overlap with the spring season would be a big deal. It’s only a few teams that would advance to the LIC. I know our guys really wanted some redemption after losing in last year’s LIC. But when I think about it — I’m just so glad we’re playing."

For Sayville’s record-breaking senior quarterback Jack Cheshire, all the faith in having a season paid off.

"We never stopped believing," said Cheshire, who threw for a Long Island record 43 touchdowns last year. "We kept working out and we’re just happy to play our senior year. We’re very disappointed there’s no LIC, that’s a crusher for us."

Sayville will host Kings Park in its opener March 13.

The CHSFL, which comprises 22 teams throughout the five boroughs, Westchester and Long Island also is ready to start but waiting for New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio to give clearance for member city schools.

"The plans are in place to start practice Feb. 27," said Ralph Dalton, the director of athletics at St. John the Baptist. "We have preliminary schedules ready to go. The Mayor has not given the clearance yet for high-risk sports."

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