The city champion South Shore girls’ basketball team has a chance to play in a national tournament, but it may do so without the blessing of the New York State Federation.
The Public School Athletic League Class AA city champion Vikings are slated to participate in the four-team field of the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals starting April 2 at Christ the King in Middle Village, according to a report in USA Today.
Fellow city champion Wings Academy will compete in the eight-team boys’ tournament. The event features some of the best teams in the country and has its finals at Madison Square Garden. The two city teams are the lowest-ranked squads in their respective fields.
“Our kids and coaches are excited to play in this tournament and we’re thrilled to give them this opportunity,” said Department of Education spokesman Jason Fink.
Participating in a tournament like this was considered a major no-no by the New York State Federation back in 2011, when Boys & Girls and Murry Bergtraum took part in the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational.
The Dick’s event happens after the state Federation tournament, which is March 27–29 in Albany this year. That puts it after the 22 weeks allotted by rule for the winter season, according to Robert Zayas, the executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. New York State teams are also only allowed to participate in one postseason tournament, which by rule starts with playoff games in their league and ends with the Federation tournament.
The New York City Department of Education does not see the PSAL’s action as a violation of the rules because it is an independent league that voluntarily participates in the New York State Federation along with the state’s other leagues and it is free to make decisions that are in the best interest of its student-athletes.
Federation executive board member Tom Murray, who represents the Catholic High School Athletic Association, said the PSAL made it known back in the fall that it would petition the New York State Education Department for a waiver to take part in the national tourney. The New York City Department of Education would not comment on whether the league ever made the waiver request, but permission was not needed in the department’s eyes.
Murray said the Federation board has not heard about any such request so far.
If a waiver is not granted, the PSAL would need to present its case to the Federation executive board next weekend during the state tournament. Murray said this “probably wouldn’t the first time” the PSAL has tried to challenge state rules.
“I’m sure it will come up [at the Federation],” he said.
The Federation cannot stop PSAL teams from competing in a national tournament, but could deliver consequences for doing so. In 2011, the CHSAA threatened to have its teams boycott playing PSAL squads if it didn’t not get sufficient answers as to why the league chose to allow its teams to take part in the ESPN Rise Invitational. The other two Federation members considered similar bans, but none of them followed through after a conference call with PSAL Executive Director Donald Douglas. The hope then was that this issue would not arise again. No members have threatened a boycott at this time.
South Shore coach Anwar Gladden was unaware his club would definitely be participating in the Dick’s tournament until seeing the USA Today article. The Vikings will play Catholic state champion Christ the King in the Federation semifinals on March 27 in Albany. Gladden and Wings coach Billy Turnage said they are going to follow the league’s leadership with it comes to the national tournament.
“The PSAL has the student-athletes’ best interests in mind,” Gladden said. “I follow their lead. I believe strongly in the league and the administrators that are in charge.”
If the state allows South Shore and Wings to participate in a national tournament via a waiver, it would be a drastic change in policy and could set a precedent for other teams to take part in such events. Christ the King boys’ basketball coach Joe Arbitello, whose school will host the first two days of the tournament, has been told by the Catholic league that it would not apply for the waiver in the future for its teams, even if the PSAL is granted one.
Arbitello feels that, waiver or no waiver, it is inappropriate for the PSAL to allow its teams to play in the event like this when the leadership of the Federation’s other members are against it.
The coach is even threatening stay home from Albany and not defend the school’s consecutive state crowns against the PSAL.
“How are we going to allow them to play as a part of the state association?” Arbitello said, saying the Federation tournament should be for teams that play by the Federation’s rules. “It’s a joke. I may not go to it then. I may not show up. I’m not going to give them the benefit of playing us.”
Both South Shore and Wings, however, plan on being in Arbitello’s gym in April — as long as its league says it can play.
“It’s not like we tried to backdoor the PSAL,” Turnage said. “The PSAL came to us with it.”