PIAA sports medicine committee votes unanimously that fall sports should start as scheduled

(Scranton) Times-Tribune (TNS)
Central York football players work out during the PIAA heat acclimatization period in 2017. The 2020 heat acclimatization period is set to begin on Aug. 10.
  • The PIAA Board of Directors will have a teleconference meeting on Wednesday.
  • The PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Steering Committee has given fall sports the OK to start.
  • Fall sports are scheduled to start Aug. 10 with heat acclimatization and Aug. 17 for full practice.

One committee has given its approval for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to return to fall sports on schedule.

According to the agenda for Wednesday’s teleconference meeting of the PIAA Board of Directors, the PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Steering Committee voted unanimously to recommend fall sports practices start Aug. 10 with heat acclimatization and Aug. 17 for full practice, as long as essential safety guidelines and protocols are followed.

The committee also recommended a policy that reads: “Based on currently known information, the Committee believes that strict adherence by schools and teams to their school-adopted plans and the Governor’s School Sports Guidance should provide a reasonably safe environment for student athletes to participate in interscholastic athletics as currently scheduled.”

All of the fall sports steering committees met last week via teleconference in response to the PIAA announcing it intends to sponsor fall sports on time amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think we had great meetings last week and received a lot of good input from the various committees,” PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi said. “We have some good guidelines that we feel are doable to achieve a safe return to play. (Tuesday) the strategic planning committee will make edits and changes where it sees fit and then we will kick it to the board for approval.”

One of the discussion items at the SMAC meeting addressed the protocol to follow should an athlete test positive for COVID-19 during the season. One positive test would force the whole team to be quarantined for 14 days. Also, the committee recognized “concerns shared by school administrators on the re-starting of schools generally and that challenges in doing so may require suspension of athletics until schools get started so students may adjust to bus and daily schedules.”

There is also the possibility fall sports could be modified or stopped if directed by Governor Tom Wolf, the Department of Health or the Department of Education.

Finishing before Thanksgiving? One recommendation is to conclude all fall sports before Thanksgiving. That could impact the structure of state and district postseason brackets and limit the number of qualifiers for football. All of the fall sports steering committees looked at changes to shorten seasons if possible.

“We have people who are committed to salvaging what they can of a season,” Lombardi said. “If we can get a good, full season in, terrific. If we can get part of a season in, that is also good. It’s about having people participate.

“Right now, we are trying to take everything in a measured, step-by-step process to see what we can possibly get done. It’s important, and we heard from the steering committee people that it is important, that we try to have a fall season. And we are going to give them the best guidelines for a safe return to play. What is sometimes forgotten is that we have the safety of everyone as the first and most important priority.”

Items discussed: Other items discussed included:

• The SMAC Committee understands there is a disparity in areas of the state, with some having an increase in positive results and other showing declines or stable numbers. This means sports can proceed, but some will be at different levels.

• Some sports with physical contact and large numbers of participants, like football, present challenges, but the opportunity for students to participate in tennis and golf appear to be likely and may have a good chance of completing a season.

Coaches' committee: At the PIAA Coaches’ Advisory Committee meeting, there was an emphasis on increasing the number of balls used at events, guidelines for ball boys or girls and cleaning of the implements. Also, assistant executive director Jennifer Grassel said the PIAA is seeking clarification regarding the number of people allowed at an event. Governor Wolf’s Return to Play guidelines do not allow spectators and limit outdoor events to 250 and indoor events to 25.

They discussed the scenario of a school district that had all-virtual learning, and whether it would have to cancel sports because of it. A school going all online, however, would not necessitate that because there are policies that permit students who chose a cyber education to compete in sports.

Football question: For football, Lombardi briefed the committee on several points of emphasis that must be met upon a return to competition.

• The steering committee recommended face shields for players that may be worn for while on the field as well as on the sidelines.

• Team boxes can be extended to the 10-yard-lines to encourage more social distancing and teams can reduce the size of game rosters.

• The ball should be cleaned on a rotation to the sidelines, and ball boys or girls must wear gloves and be supervised by a staff member.

• Teams can minimize offensive and defensive huddles. Coaching staffs can come up with other forms of communication.

• Officials are required to wear masks when entering the grounds.

“I think everyone is trying to do everything that they can to have sports and make them safe for the players, the coaches and officials,” said District 2 football chairman Mike Ognosky, who participated in the football steering committee meeting. “The things that you think and worry about are how kids get water, what kind of masks they can wear.

“I think everyone wants to do the best they can and they want to play.”