WHITE: By playing waiting game, PIAA keeps hope alive, and that's a good thing

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi.

The PIAA has turned into the Patient Interscholastic Athletic Association. And that’s a good thing when it comes to dealing with sports and COVID-19.

The PIAA reiterated earlier this week its stance on whether to resume high school sports in the state, or cancel them for the rest of the school year. The PIAA is waiting to make a decision. Waiting until when? Not even the PIAA knows.

I say “bravo” to the PIAA and I say it for two reasons.

1. Why not wait?

2. Hope.

In mid-March, the PIAA postponed the rest of the PIAA boys and girls basketball playoffs and also the Class 2-A boys' and girls' swimming championship. Spring sports also are not permitted because Gov. Tom Wolf closed all Pennsylvania schools indefinitely.

Chances aren't good: I certainly realize the chances are not good that any high school sports will be played the rest of the school year. Some experts are saying stay-at-home orders might last until at least May. And high school sports should not be at the top of anyone’s priority list at this awful time in the world.

But what if, by chance, Pennsylvania schools reopened at some point in May? What if it was deemed safe to play games, maybe without fans? Districts around the state could certainly come up with plans to play some kind of shortened season — and so what if it lasts until July.

Geez, even I came up with a plan for shortened seasons for baseball, softball and track (more on those plans later). The people who are on district sports steering committees should already be brainstorming on “what if” plans.

Patience hurts no one: Of course, if schools in Pennsylvania are shut down for the rest of the school year, everything is off. But what is the harm with the PIAA waiting to make a decision on sports? No one is being hurt by the PIAA’s patience. Not every state has canceled spring sports. In fact, according to the National Federation of State High School association, only seven states had canceled spring sports as of April 1. Ohio last week finally canceled its basketball state championships, but no decision has been made on spring sports.

In the PIAA’s case, patience is indeed a virtue because it gives hope. We all could use a little more hope during these times, and especially kids. Did you know 111,000 kids played high school spring sports in Pennsylvania last year? Let them have just a sliver of hope for a while that is still a chance to play some games this spring, especially for the seniors. This isn’t college. If spring sports are called off in Pennsylvania, there is no talk of giving seniors an extra year of eligibility like the NCAA.

If schools would open at some point this spring, hurdles would need to be cleared, and not the ones on a track. Even PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi cautioned that even if schools re-open, some might not want to play host to a sporting event because of COVID-19 concerns. Then there is the question of whether fans should be allowed. I say if you have to play games without any fans, so be it. Ask any high school athlete would they rather not play games at all, or play without fans? You know what the answer will be.

Decision could wait until May: The PIAA could wait until early May to make a decision on sports. And if high school sports would resume, many people from coaches to athletic directors to district officials will have to scramble like never before to work out things like schedules, playoff formats, etc. So be it. Why not try? These are unprecedented times and ordinary people can sometimes do extraordinary things.

For the heck of it, let’s just say the schools reopened in mid-June and it was deemed safe to play high school sports without fans. I say you still play the basketball championships and play some kind of spring sports schedule. Junior varsity and junior high sports might have to go by the wayside this spring, but that’s up for each school to decide. How’s this for a system for baseball, softball, track and field and the PIAA basketball championships?:

Basketball: Let’s play. Even if it’s June. Even without fans. How about the state championships on July 4th weekend? Heck, the NBA might play late into the summer.

The PIAA playoffs are in the quarterfinals and I say take four teams that are in the quarterfinals and bring them to a high school gym on a Saturday. The first game is at 11 a.m. and the second at 12:30. The two winners leave, relax, eat dinner, watch a little film and come back to the same gym to play a semifinal game at 7:30. The winner goes on to the state championship the following weekend. Indiana uses this format for two rounds of its state tournament.

And please don’t give me this malarkey that teams will need at least a week to practice. You get three days of practice. I’ve talked to a number of players and even coaches in the PIAA quarterfinals who have said that’s enough practice time. Sure, the games might not be as pretty as the regular season, but all teams would be in the same boat.

Baseball/softball: Let’s say schools are back in mid-May. Don’t give me the hogwash that baseball teams need a few weeks of practice time.

Three or four days would be sufficient, but you would just have to be careful with pitchers. A shortened regular season, with playoffs extending until late June, is possible.

Track and field: This sport is tricky because it is much different than the other sports and many athletes would be at a meet, which might be a concern.

But if allowed, how about each league (boys and girls) has a league championship meet with the top three finishers in each event (or those who meet a qualifying standard) moving on to the district championship meet.

Stage the boys' and girls' championships at different sites on different days to lessen the crowd of athletes. Team champions will be determined by points at the individual championships.

As for the PIAA track and field championships … I need ideas. But like the PIAA, I’m willing to wait.