PIAA favors full state playoff brackets for spring sports 'if possible'

CHRIS HARLAN
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
Bob Lombardi

If the PIAA gets its wish, spring sports will have full state playoff brackets this season rather than the smaller champions-only format used in the fall and winter.

"That's our intention," PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said Wednesday, two days before spring teams can start regular-season competition.

But the bigger brackets aren't yet guaranteed.

"Consistent with the fall and winter, there may be some consideration for champions only," he added, "but we would like to get a full bracket in, if possible."

The PIAA adopted slimmed-down fall and winter tournaments under covid-19 conditions. Only teams that won their district were allowed to enter, so no more than 12 teams statewide could qualify in any classification.

But there are compelling reasons to deviate and allow a full bracket in the spring, Lombardi said. Among them, he mentioned the shift back to outdoor competition and the reality that spring sports were canceled entirely a year ago.

"The students that played spring sports last year lost their season," Lombardi said. "We know we can't compensate for that because it's water over the dam, but we want to do everything we can to get them a full complement of games and a full complement of playoffs."

The PIAA board met online Wednesday.

Lombardi updated board members on the planning underway for spring sports but no board action was taken.

Big change for track: Among the biggest changes, the PIAA intends to revamp the schedule for the state track and field championships to hold a pair of one-day meets at Shippensburg.

Class 2-A boys and girls will compete on a Friday with Class 3-A on Saturday. Lombardi said he believes the PIAA can maintain the same number of track qualifiers but may eliminate some heats.

The move eases housing concerns by reducing overnight stays. The university typically housed 2,600 athletes on campus for a two-day event, Lombardi said, but must reduce that number, with only one student per room.

"To have the students leave, disinfect the whole place ... and have another group come in, that is a really heavy lift," he said, "and we can't thank them enough for giving us the consideration to be there."

Baseball finals in State College? The PIAA also has had favorable talks with the State College Spikes about holding baseball finals at Medlar Field, he said. The PIAA intends to talk with Penn State about keeping softball there as well.

For now, it's unknown how many teams will by vying for those titles. First, the PIAA must decide how many baseball and softball teams qualify for the state playoffs. One concern in the way of full brackets could be the number of schools willing to serve as neutral-site hosts.

"If you go to a full bracket, we're going to have to have places that will host midway games," Lombardi said. "If schools in the membership are not able to do that for whatever reasons — policies on their campus — that's going to change the landscape."

The PIAA will talk with district representatives in the next few weeks to gauge schools' willingness to host, he said. If enough are willing, that's one step closer to full brackets.

"If not, we might be proceeding the same way with champions at home sites," Lombardi said. "But we wanted to make a try."

Basketball: While the PIAA is already holding discussions regarding upcoming spring sports championships, there are still PIAA basketball champions to be crowned this week at the Giant Center in Hershey.

The PIAA revealed during Wednesday's meeting that all schools competing at this year's PIAA basketball championships were allotted 650 tickets for their individual games, and any tickets left unsold will be made available to the general public at 4 p.m. the day before the game. Tickets can be found by searching "PIAA" on Ticketmaster's app or website.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, through theTNS news service contributed to this report.