PIAA's Bob Lombardi on playing fall sports: 'Only wrong decision is if we don't give it a try'

MIKE WHITE
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Bob Lombardi

It looks like Gov. Tom Wolf isn’t budging on his recommendation that school sports be called off until Jan. 1 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, it’s now your move, PIAA.

Members of the PIAA administration met with Wolf and his staff Friday afternoon, and Pennsylvania’s governing body for high school athletics later released a statement about the meeting, saying how Wolf and his staff “repeatedly indicated this is a local school decision.”

Last week, Wolf recommended that all sports be postponed until the new year. The Pennsylvania departments of health and education also issued the same recommendation. But both Wolf and the departments said individual schools should make the decision of whether to play fall sports.

Now the proverbial ball is in the PIAA’s court. The PIAA’s board of directors will meet Friday (Aug. 21) to decide on the fate of fall sports. Listen to PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi’s comments, and maybe high school teams in Pennsylvania should be getting ready to play.

“The only wrong decision is if we don’t give it a try,” Lombardi said in a phone interview.

Lombardi said he and the PIAA believe many schools consider Wolf’s recommendation a mandate. Lombardi and the PIAA believe leaving the decision of starting fall sports up to a school district puts immense pressure on the school. A new development in this ordeal is that Lombardi said the PIAA asked Wolf’s staff if the state would consider providing schools with liability coverage.

“Because I believe it would take a lot of stress off administrations of schools, and we would be very supportive of providing schools with liability coverage,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi said there will be other meetings before the PIAA board makes a decision next Friday.

“We have a few miles to go,” Lombardi said. “One, we’re going to have a sports medicine committee meeting next week. Two, we just got notice that the PIAA oversight committee (of the state legislature) wants to meet with us Tuesday. The (PIAA) strategic planning committee might also meet, and then we’ll have the board meeting Friday.”

The PIAA voted Aug. 7 to delay the start of fall sports practices for two weeks while hoping to get Wolf’s blessing to have fall sports. The PIAA could go ahead with fall sports and simply allow each school to decide whether they want to participate.

Or the PIAA could postpone some — or all — fall sports, and move them to the spring.

“Everything is still on the table,” Lombardi said.

The WPIAL also decided a little more than a week ago to postpone the start of its fall sports while awaiting a decision from the PIAA. WPIAL football teams can’t play games until Sept. 10.

But if the PIAA goes ahead with fall sports, there could be many schools around the state that opt not to play because of COVID-19. When asked if that is a concern, Lombardi again sounded like the PIAA is leaning toward having fall sports.

“Our board said months ago that their philosophy is to get as many participating that feel comfortable,” Lombardi said. “There will be no penalty for schools that don’t want to be involved.”

Lombardi said the PIAA also “wants to see spectators at games within the proper parameters.”

When asked if the PIAA would entertain the thought of having playoffs for schools that want to play fall sports next spring, Lombardi said, “Possibly. But that’s yet to be determined.”

The PIAA office has been flooded with e-mails and phone calls over the past week from parents, coaches, athletes and school administrators.

“We received over 7,500 e-mails in our office last week about this,” Lombardi said. “The number of phone calls we got last Friday after our board meeting shut our phone system down. We’ve received letters from legislators. I’d say probably 95 percent or more of the messages we’ve received have been positive. People want to have sports. This is important to people.”