GROLLER: Five takeaways from PIAA’s plan to start fall sports as scheduled

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
  • The PIAA is still hoping to start the fall sports season on time and on schedule.
  • Gov. Tom Wolf may be the most important person in determining when PIAA sports will start.
  • The heat acclimatization period for scholastic football teams is set to start Aug. 10.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf will likely be the single most influential person when it comes to determining if the PIAA fall sports season will start on time.

Wednesday’s virtual PIAA Board of Control meeting garnered a lot of attention considering it came less than a month from the scheduled start of the heat acclimatization period for scholastic football teams on Aug. 10 and a little more than a month until the start of practice for all other fall sports on Aug. 17.

While Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf was announcing new coronavirus-related restrictions on indoor gatherings and bars and restaurants, the PIAA said it will “stay the course” and keep “the status quo,” at least for now, when it comes to starting the 2020-21 sports year on time.

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Things could change by the next board meeting, tentatively scheduled for July 29.

Here are five takeaways from a press conference featuring PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi after the board meeting:

1. The PIAA really wants to play ball: Lombardi said repeatedly that the board is doing all it can to have as much of a fall season as possible and on schedule.

He said his organization tried to go “to the end of the earth” several months ago in an effort to finish the winter sports season and have a spring season before the governor’s office permanently closed schools for the year on April 9.

“None of us exists without kids playing sports; none of us have jobs,” he said. “We don’t take that lightly. It’s important to us. All of us have a vested interest.”

Lombardi acknowledged that not everyone sees athletics as being as important to the educational process as the PIAA does.

“We think it’s an important extension of the school day,” Lombardi said. “It teaches a tremendous amount of educational lessons that you can get in the classroom but you cement in an athletic, competitive situation. It teaches you how to be competitive in your field.”

2. Gov. Wolf and state officials will call the shots: Lombardi said the PIAA will adjust accordingly as state health guidelines change. At the moment, the PIAA didn’t feel the need to push back the schedule or cancel anything, but will remain flexible if state-mandated changes are coming.

“If things change, we would cooperatively work together to come up with alternate plans including possibly shortening of seasons and qualifiers if necessary,” he said.

With rates of infection varying across the state, Lombardi said that if one district is in better shape than another district, the healthier district could proceed with competition even if the more affected districts can’t.

3. The PIAA and Gov. Wolf are talking: Lombardi said the level of cooperation between the PIAA and governor’s office has been adequate and “we continue to work to get better.”

Lombardi added “there are so many moving parts that it’s very difficult for the department of health, the department of education and the governor’s office with all of the tentacles they have. So, I would say it has been fair and we continue to work together to get the best information we can out. It’s safety first. That’s a huge priority for all."

The PIAA won’t go against the guidance from the state.

“We have to work in concert together no matter what,” Lombardi said.

4. The PIAA won’t let colleges or other states influence its decisions: “We are different from college athletics,” Lombardi said. “College athletes are basically adults and they’re traveling in from all over the country and in some sports, they are traveling from places throughout the world. It’s not just where they’re coming from, but the traveling needed to get there, that had some college conferences concerned.”

In regard to other states, Lombardi said it will have no impact.

“Our folks have told our board members that they want as much [athletics] as you can possibly give us,” Lombardi said. “We’re not the PSAC. We’re not the big five, the ACC, the NAIA, or the jucos, or Maryland or Virginia or New Mexico. Those states have other things. We want to do what’s best for our kids in Pennsylvania.”

5. Rumors and speculation don’t help: Lombardi expressed frustration at the abundance of rumors and speculation going on in certain sectors of the scholastic sports world. One rumor making the rounds talked about an abbreviated regular season and the elimination of the state playoffs.

Lombardi said he’d like to know who’s spreading the rumors, go to their house and punch them in the nose.

He said speculation only leads to misconceptions.

“I’m not going to get into the ‘What ifs’ because I think it’s dangerous and it gives people ideas,” Lombardi said. “People say I heard this and I heard that. The last thing we need now is to perpetuate rumors that aren’t true. We’re trying to give people an experience that was taken away from them on March 13.”

As for not having state football championships, Lombardi said it’s foolish to make a decision now about playoffs that would take place in November and December.

“We are trying our darndest to advance to the postseason as scheduled,” he said. “It’s a little premature in July to make a decision about December. We are planning to have a postseason as we sit here and speak today.”