PIAA sets fall playoff schedules, weighs in on spectator issue

Erie Times-News (TNS)
Bob Lombardi

The PIAA scheduled postseasons for all fall sports during a board meeting Wednesday in the hopes of crowning state champions over the next two months as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers.

"We're cautiously optimistic that we'll get a state playoff in," PIAA Executive Director Bob Lombardi said during a media session after the board meeting.

The PIAA also cleared up any confusion on spectators. Lombardi confirmed that schools can decide their own fan policy now after the ruling by U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV, which stated Gov. Tom Wolf's mitigation order regarding restrictions of people at an event to be unconstitutional.

The clarification comes on the heels of House Bill 2787 being vetoed by Wolf on Monday and a vote to override in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives failing on Wednesday.

"I was surprised after seeing the first vote, but I'm optimistic we can work with the general assembly to get a solid solution on parents watching ballgames," Lombardi said about the failed override vote.

PIAA general counsel Alan Boynton confirmed that there is no limit on spectators at the current time during the meeting, but he cautioned schools to not overreact.

Wolf was denied a stay request by Stickman earlier this week, but his next step is to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for a stay within the next week. If the stay is granted while Wolf appeals the unconstitutional ruling, the mitigation order of a maximum of 25 people inside and 250 outside at events would be back in place during the appeal process.

Golf: Some of the playoff changes include no regional tournaments for boys and girls golf. The state qualifiers from the district tournaments will move on to the state championships. The individual championships are set for Oct. 19-20, and the team state championships will be Oct. 26 instead of the usual three consecutive days of golf.

Tennis: Girls' tennis will also have a big change as teams, singles champions and doubles champions will only get to Hershey if they reach the semifinals. In the past, all first-round matches were played at district sites with the quarterfinals in Hershey. The quarterfinals this year will be played at district sites.

Cross country: The cross country championships will take place the first weekend of November, but instead of all six races on one day, the PIAA will hold the Class 1-A boys and girls races on Nov. 6 and the remaining four races on Nov. 7.

Soccer, volleyball: In boys' and girls' soccer and girls' volleyball, the dates stayed the same, but the brackets were changed with only district champions moving on to the PIAA playoffs.

Football: The football playoffs were moved up several weeks to end during Thanksgiving week.

Early fall finish: Lombardi said that part of the reason the PIAA wanted to move up the playoffs is to give a buffer between fall and winter seasons. The first practice date for winter sports is Nov. 16 and first competition day is Dec. 11.

"Sports medicine was saying if we can finish on Thanksgiving weekend and everyone else is done the weekend before, it would offer a three-week buffer which would act as a quarantine," Lombardi said. "Except for 12 schools playing in the final for football, that's pretty good."

The PIAA passed on a first-reading basis that all fall sports can compete until Thanksgiving weekend as long as they don't exceed the number of competitions. For example, if a football team plays just six regular-season games for playoffs, they are allowed to play four more games if they can find opponents. That applies to all fall sports.

Playoff ideas: Another big topic for the PIAA was sports teams starting late, especially in the eastern part of the state. The PIAA voted to allow district committees to determine postseason qualifiers no matter how many games they play this fall. If a football team gets just one game in and the district committee feels they are worthy of a playoff spot, they can enter the postseason.

A proposal was motioned to allow teams who don't play at least 40 percent of their season to try to play again in the spring, but that motion was tabled so the committee could study how things are going over the next two weeks. The PIAA is set to meet again on Oct. 7.

Fan policy: The PIAA has not decided on a spectator policy for state championships and plans on discussing it at a future meeting.