A resolution to an ongoing dispute over the administration of a state COVID-19 mandate that could have resulted in a shortage of basketball officials to work upcoming games in Westchester and Putnam counties appears to be in place.
It may be temporary, though.
According to Westchester County Basketball Officials Association (WCBOA) president Mike Baratta and Westchester-Putnam Women's Basketball Officials Association (WPWBOA) president Mike Bottalico, Section 1 executive director Todd Santabarbera reached out Tuesday with a comprimise.
Individual referees will be allowed to show a vaccination card or proof of a COVID-19 test on site when they show up to work a game.
"Our guys are working games again today," Baratta said.
Section 1 pulled officials from two varsity games Monday after their respective officials’ associations declined to share information required under a directive issued by the state. They were replaced with referees from Rockland County, allowing boys and girls contests between John Jay-Cross River and Lakeland to be played as scheduled.
An emergency regulation announced in September by the state department of health requires all school employees and contractors to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing or share proof of vaccination.
"The local chapters are responsible for submitting a list of members who meet the vaccine opt-out requirements along with those who have committed to weekly testing," Santabarbara said. "They would need to provide us proof that they have committed to a COVID test that week. We are not collecting results. That was never part of the proposal. If there is a positive result, the DOH will take over from there and begin contact tracing."
The protocols for assigning officials were reviewed by the NYSPHSAA in the fall and went into effect Nov. 16.
"I believe we have 20 local officiating chapters for winter sports in Section 1," Santabarbera added. "So far, 18 of them have provided us with their eligibility lists."
The WCBOA, which also covers Putnam and has more than 250 members, and the WPWBOA, which has more than 150 members, balked at collecting and distributing the information.
"We have no objection to the policy," Baratta said. "We support everyone being safe and getting tested and all that. If the section wants to collect that data from our officials, they have paid staff, they have IT departments, they have attorneys. … Our boards are volunteer. We don’t have any legal representation available to us without going outside and paying for it.
"I think it’s well beyond the scope of what we do. We’re not health inspectors or COVID police. I think they are trying to take the liability off their shoulders and place it on us."
Referees are considered independent contractors. The are paid $125 for working a varsity game. Assignments for regular season and sectional playoff games come from BOCES.
According to Bottalico, potential liability was the primary issue.
"We determined it just wasn’t worth the risk,” he said. "First of all, it’s an administrative nightmare, but the HIPPA laws are very technical. We were advised this will expose us to legal liability. We’d have to obtain written consent from each referee every time (vaccine or testing) information is disclosed and we'd have to keep a record of all disclosures we make. It goes on and on. It makes no sense for us.
"And what if an official lies about their card, goes to a game and gets somebody sick? What if somebody dies? Who is liable for that?"
HIPPA is a 1996 law that safeguards the privacy and security of health information.
The list of referees who have provided the associations proof they have been vaccinated and thus eligible to skip weekly tests is a one-time submission. The list of eligible officials who have shown proof of testing is a weekly submission, required each Tuesday during the winter season.
BOCES notified each of the 20 associations of the NYSPHSAA policy on Oct. 31.
"Once the state executive committee met in October, we rolled out the protocols we would use for the winter season," Santabarbera said. "We notified them Nov. 16 would be the start and once we did the housekeeping to see who was in compliance, we sent notices on Nov. 21 to those not yet in compliance."
Five associations were contacted.
Upon request, Santabarbera met via Zoom with members from those boards, and chapters representing girls basketball officials in Dutchess and boys and girls basketball officials in Rockland soon reversed course and decided to comply.
Accociations representing ice hockey, wrestling, gymnastics, skiing, indoor track and swimming officials did not voice any objections.
"I don't believe these other associations have done their due dilligence," Bottalico said.
An email signed by Baratta and Bottalico was sent on Sunday to BOCES and Santabarbara.
"Our backs were up against the wall," Baratta said.
Baratta and Bottalico reconfirmed their opposition and stated their associations were unable to move forward due to the liability issues.
"In Section 9, BOCES is administering the mandate," Bottalico said. "Why can't they do that here?"
There are far more referees working in Section 1.
"We have over 1,000 officials season to season in our database," Santabarbara said. "Handling the administrative end has been a part of the conversation as we explore solutions to the problem, but we're still attempting to get a sense of what that solution might look like."
Section 1 responded to Baratta and Bottalico on Monday, informing them that officials assigned to work the Lakeland-John Jay games were being pulled and replaced by officials from outside the area.
The schedule is light this week, but when the number of games increases, it's likely a number of contests would've been postponed.
"It takes the executive board and the whole association out of the picture," Baratta said. “(BOCES) will deal with it directly as the information will be shared between the officials and the school. There is no liability for us. I was told it was a short term solution, though."
Further details were unavailable as Santabarbera could not be reached Tuesday.
Mike Dougherty covers boys soccer, boys lacrosse, girls basketball and golf for The Journal News/lohud.com. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @hoopsmbd, @lohudlacrosse, @lohudhoopsmbd and @lohudgolf.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: COVID mandate results in dispute between Section 1 and basketball refs