No locker rooms at halftime? PIAA readies some sport-specific guidelines for fall

(Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)

The PIAA will release sport-specific guidelines for teams, coaches and officials this coming week, a key step in the return-to-play process for high school athletics.

PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi described the guidelines as “things to consider while getting ready for competition.” They’ll reinforce social distance, mask wearing and sanitation, but also provide some game-day protocols.

For example, football teams shouldn’t crowd into locker rooms at halftime and could instead congregate in the end zones.

“But here’s a hypothetical,” Lombardi said. “What if it’s raining, or there’s thunder and lightning? You’ve got to get people out of the weather. So I think the guideline would say, ‘Go to a place where you can be covered and still make sure social distancing is taking place.’”

The guidelines won’t impose any mandates for when an athlete tests positive or has symptoms of covid-19. Questions about quarantine and when to play are left to an individual school’s health and safety plan.

Those are decisions best made locally, Lombardi said.

Work in progress: The guidelines remain a work in progress, and the PIAA won’t finalize them until they’re approved by the board July 29. The PIAA sports medicine advisory committee and the PIAA strategic planning committee will review the guidelines before the board meets.

Sport-specific steering committees already reviewed the information. It includes general guidelines along with recommendations tailored for each sport.

“We’ve utilized some from the National Federation (of State High School Associations) and looked at some from other states,” Lombardi said. “We’ve tried to incorporate what we think are best practices for our schools.”

Moving ahead as scheduled: The PIAA will continue to move ahead with fall sports as scheduled, unless Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration says otherwise. Heat acclimatization for football starts Aug. 10. Practices for all fall sports begin Aug. 17.

Recreational leagues and AAU sports are already competing with less oversight than high school teams will have in the fall, so Lombardi sees no reason why interscholastic athletics shouldn’t resume next month.

“Our schools are doing a terrific job with their health and safety plans,” he said. “They’re creating a safer environment than those recreational programs. So, why shouldn’t the safer environment get the opportunity to play too?”

These guidelines are an important step in that direction.

Football concerns: Among fall sports, social distancing is a concern for football because of roster sizes. Some larger schools have more than 80 players. For that reason, the PIAA guidelines will expand the area where players can stand on the sidelines to the 10-yard lines.

However, the PIAA also will urge football teams to limit the number of players on the sideline.

“If you have 60 kids on the team and you’re only going to play 40, then consider only taking 40, because it’s easier to stretch them out,” Lombardi said. “We’re not trying to limit participation. But if they’re not playing anyway, let’s get them to a competition where they can, at the sub-varsity level.”

“All of us need to be a little more adaptable to change.”