THORPE: As some dominoes start to fall, big question remains: What will PIAA do?
In the last couple of weeks, we've seen colleges and college leagues take some action.
Friday, folks over in New Jersey made a ruling themselves.
But as another week begins, and the countdown to the official start of the 2020 fall sports season continues, the latest we've heard officially from the PIAA was a July 3 announcement regarding guidelines for offseason workouts with regard to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Well, those workouts have begun in many schools — individual districts have made the call on when to allow on-campus offseason workouts and the specific safety protocols — but as of yet, we're not quite certain what the plan is for the actual start of the season.
There's a practical reason for the delay, and that's a bigger-picture issue.
The school districts themselves are still trying to put plans in place to reopen schools safely at the end of August and in early September. As of now, that is an ongoing discussion and high school sports are only part of that equation.
But others are making decisions. In New Jersey, the NJSIAA announced Friday that games will start on Oct. 1, with official practices beginning on Sept. 14. The first football games will be on Oct. 2.
"High school sports are school-based, so we need to first ensure all is in order with the opening of our schools," said Colleen Maguire, the NJSIAA's Chief Operating Officer, said in a press release. "After that, we can begin playing sports. To be clear, our goal is to return to play — while making sure that health, safety, emotional well-being and academics come first."
Nothing official in Pennsylvania: What about Pennsylvania? As of now, nothing new officially has been released on the PIAA's website. A week or so ago, rumors were circulating on social media that the organization planned to cancel the fall season altogether, like it did the spring during the early months of the pandemic.
In an article on pennlive.com last week, PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi dispelled that rumor, saying they are "cautiously optimistic for the start of the fall season with football getting ready to go off with heat acclimation Aug. 10, followed by the standard starts of other sports on Aug. 17."
The PIAA Board of Directors has a meeting on Wednesday and that promises to be a hot topic.
Dominoes falling: We've seen the dominoes start to topple a bit at the college level in recent weeks. The Centennial Conference, which includes Gettysburg, Franklin & Marshall and Dickinson, suspended the fall season, saying specifically in a statement that football will not occur in the fall.
The Middle Atlantic Conference, which now includes York College, last week released that its teams will only play league competition this season, and will start no earlier than Sept. 18.
The Ivy League and Patriot League, which both include Pennsylvania schools, have canceled their fall seasons outright.
Division I conferences such as the Big Ten and Pac-12 have decided to go conference-only as well, while other conferences are still deciding, with the multi-million dollar elephant in the room being the college football season, a major factor.
Colleges, high schools face different obstacles: High school sports don't face the same obstacles as colleges in terms of sheer numbers. Even in football, the roster sizes, coaching staffs and support personnel are much smaller. Crowds are in the single thousands rather than tens and hundreds of thousands.
But the student/athletes are, for the most part, minors, meaning under-18 years of age. Protecting them should always be the first priority.
This summer, we've seen sports return to some degree at many levels. On television, there's auto racing, golf, soccer, mixed-martial arts and boxing without fans available. By this time next month, Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL all plan to hold games without fans as well, and NFL training camps are scheduled to be in full gear.
But ... those are professional athletes. But ... we've also seen positive COVID-19 tests at every turn.
Safety protocols in place, but will they be followed? At the youth level, kids are playing sports such as baseball, softball and soccer in Pennsylvania as counties across the state went into the green phase last month. Safety protocols have been put in place.
I've been to a couple of high-school aged (previously known as American Legion) baseball games. For the most part, I've seen the players, coaches and umpires follow the protocols.
As far as spectators go, probably less than half in attendance — mostly parents or family — have worn masks throughout or followed social distancing.
Which brings up another question. What about spectators at high school sporting events? It will be difficult to keep tax-paying parents away, but it can also be difficult to enforce mask-wearing or social distancing at these events.
No fans for high school games? Like we've seen with the pro sports that have come back, it may come down to these games being played without fans, which will create an interesting-looking atmosphere at Friday night football games. Is that a sacrifice schools and communities are willing to make for the sake of some sort of season?
I have to assume in an ideal and COVID-19 safe situation, most people want to see schools reopen in a couple of months, and in turn, high school sports back, giving kids the opportunity to play the games they love and enjoy the education experience that comes from athletics.
But as we've found out, 2020 has been anything but ideal.
Difficult calls: Schools across Pennsylvania and the PIAA have some difficult calls to make, and they want to make the right decisions to best protect the students.
It will be interesting to see if fall sports, like happened in the spring, become a casualty of those difficult decisions.