PIAA opts to stay course for now, won’t change start dates for fall high school sports

(Wilkes-Barre) Citizens' Voice (TNS)

High school sports remain on track to start on time, for now.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Directors announced during a conference call Wednesday it is moving forward with the start of the fall sports season while following state guidelines and continuing to monitor the coronavirus pandemic.

Heat acclimatization is set for Aug. 10 and the first day of practice is Aug. 17.

“We are still on the timetable because we have not seen a large spike of shutdown of student-athletes on their campuses,” PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi said. “We have seen some pocketed things, but we believe most of our schools are doing an outstanding job with their health and safety programs and they are monitoring their student-athletes.

“We held on July 15 that we still have enough time to make an analysis as we go forward.”

For now, even with new restrictions released Wednesday by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Lombardi feels schools can continue. Any adjustments to the fall sports season, which includes a shortening of schedules that could impact the number of qualifiers, will be based on situations that may arise in the future.

Bob Lombardi

The PIAA’s next meeting is July 29, where discussions and adjustments could be made if needed.

“That meeting will be to review any changes that come forward, like one that came forward this afternoon that was kind of a surprise about limiting inside to 25 people,” Lombardi said. “So, that certainly got some people’s attention for indoor activities. But, right now, you can’t host indoor activities.

“So, I think we can still work with that and our coaches can work with that and still get good out of season workouts for student-athletes.”

Giving students best chance to compete: The goal, Lombardi stressed, is to give students the best opportunity to compete in athletics this fall. If that means a shortened season, a full season in some parts of the state or a modified schedule in others, the board is doing what it can to have a fall sports season.

“Our board has said, we are willing to get as much as we possibly can, where we can get it,” he said. “If one part of the state could possibly play 75 percent of a schedule and another part of the state can play 25 percent, the board is OK with that. Because we want kids to get as much as they possibly can, where they can.

“Then, there are questions that have to be discussed later. Are we going to look at postseason? Is it going to end with the regular season? Is it going to end at the district level or have regionals? Those are questions that will have to be answered in the future and the reason being is we still have time to do that.”

Addressing rumors: Lombardi also addressed several rumors regarding the PIAA and its stance on fall sports. One that drew his ire especially, was that the state championship playoffs have already been canceled.

“State playoffs are not canceled. Period.” Lombardi said. “State playoffs are on the books. We are trying our darndest to advance to that. It’s a little premature in July to make a decision about December, but we are planning to have postseason as we sit here today.”

Another is how strongly the state would consider moving fall sports to the spring and the spring sports seasons to the fall.

In addition to a logistical nightmare, Lombardi stressed it would be a drastic decision that leads to other problems, especially in football, where athletes would play a physically demanding sport then turn quickly around and get ready for a fall season.

He described that option as a “last resort, but a last resort is not no resort at all.”

“Our intent is to play fall as scheduled, even if it would end up being in a shortened fashion or an altered fashion,” Lombardi said. “The flipping of those sports. There is a false narrative that the spring is going to be better than the fall. There is no guarantee of that. If you flip those two and the fall goes down, those spring sports lose two (seasons) in a row. That is inadequate. Also, you have the situation with football played in the spring and the chairman of the NFHS Sports Medicine Committee came out and said he would never recommend that because it doesn’t give a student who ends in early June and starts summer workouts in July enough time to have his body heal as an adolescent.

“Could it come to that? Possibly. But that is well down the road.”

College decisions: Also, Lombardi acknowledged what is happening around the country with several NCAA conferences, including the Ivy League, Patriot League and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference shutting down fall sports.

He pointed to the challenges for colleges that bring in athletes from different parts of the state and the country, where local high schools are gathering with people in communities.

“Student-athletes in college are not adolescents, they are adults, and they are coming from all over the country and in some sports from out of the country,” Lombardi said. “The travel in getting there had some college conferences concerned, as well.”

Possible quarantines and forfeits: If the fall season is played on schedule, one of the concerns the PIAA is anticipating is the possibility of a student-athlete testing positive and the potential quarantine that follows and how it impacts in terms of being unable to compete in games, resulting in forfeits.

“We have discussed the situation and those answers are to be determined,” Lombardi said. “Initially, one student is not considered to be a breakout. However, we have had some quality discussions with the regular season and postseason because postseason you are under a timing restraint. In season, you could postpone a contest or even have it as a no contest.

“We wanted to kick the tires on that, get our district people back to their committees. Talk to their schools on what their feelings were before we came up with a statewide policy.”