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PIAA has discussed alternate plans for fall high school sports

MIKE WHITE
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Bob Lombardi

The boss of the PIAA is still “cautiously optimistic” that high school sports will be played this fall, despite the recent increase of COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania.

Bob Lombardi, however, acknowledged the PIAA has started to have discussions on alternate plans, including shortened seasons.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions here as a (PIAA) staff, concerning possible this and possible that,” said Lombardi, the executive director of the state’s governing body for high school sports.

Some colleges, including those in the Ivy League, have canceled fall sports in the past few days because of COVID-19 concerns. The Big Ten has announced a delayed start and said it will only play conference games. 

Lombardi said the PIAA is paying close attention to decisions by colleges, and the organization’s board of directors will discuss fall sports when it meets via Zoom Tuesday and Wednesday. But Lombardi said no official ruling will come from the PIAA after the meetings.

“I think it’s just going to be an open dialogue,” Lombardi said. “If something comes out from the PIAA, it will be more of the view from 30,000 feet. It will be potential decisions and potential policies. But I don’t think we have enough information yet from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Department of Education and the governor’s office to make any final plans. We really need more guidance and more information from those agencies before any finalization could come from us because, as you can see, things change weekly.”

After Wednesday, the PIAA board does not have a scheduled meeting again until October. But Lombardi said the board will probably call for a meeting in late July to possibly make a decision on the start-up of fall sports.

“I’m still cautiously optimistic that things will start on time,” Lombardi said. “Based off what we are hearing from schools whose teams are having voluntary workouts, they’re going pretty well. … These workouts that schools are having now are good litmus tests that we have to go through before we can think about being ready for the fall.”

Lombardi said the PIAA and the Pennsylvania Football Coaches Association have already discussed a shortened fall season. Many football teams in Pennsylvania started voluntary workouts in the past few weeks. The start of heat acclimatization practices for Pennsylvania football teams is Aug. 10, and official practice starts Aug. 17. Games start Aug. 28.

One idea that has been mentioned by coaches, school administrators and even fans is moving fall sports to the spring. In April, Lombardi was adamant that the PIAA wouldn’t even consider spring football.

“I think the way things are changing, everything is on the table now,” Lombardi said. “But spring football and having fall sports in the spring is certainly not preferred, even by the National Federation of High Schools. The national federation indicated last week in a meeting that they are not in favor of moving sports to the spring because it doesn’t give kids enough time to rest, heal or recover from one sport to the next. Also, the negative impact it makes on other sports. We feel there may be other solutions.”

Lombardi pointed out that all fall sports in the PIAA finish at least a week before Thanksgiving, except football. The OHSAA, Ohio’s equivalent of the PIAA, announced Tuesday that fall sports will start on time in their state. Two other bordering states, West Virginia and New Jersey, have announced they plan to slightly delay their high school football seasons.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t have tennis, golf and cross country, or even field hockey and soccer,” Lombardi said. “Yeah, we’re going to have to do some social distancing and some other things where sports might look a little different. … Football is everybody’s question because of the nature of the game. There is contact every play.”