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PIAA defends vaccination mandate for state refs, says it won't lead to playoff shortage

  • The PIAA has mandated that all state playoff officials must be vaccinated.
  • The organization doesn't believe the new mandate will lead to a shortage of playoff officials.
  • Officials won't have to show proof of vaccination, but just sign a contract verifying their status.
Bob Lombardi

As it has been for the past 18 months, COVID-19 was the main topic at the latest PIAA virtual meeting on Wednesday.

Two of the main items regarding COVID-19 were: officials being vaccinated in the state playoffs and what happens when games have to be canceled.

Earlier in the week, the PIAA put out an advisory to officials that they have to be vaccinated to work any state playoff game.

PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi.

"For interdistrict playoffs, which we assign from our office, one of the conditions we are putting in the contract is that officials are requested to be vaccinated," said PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi. "If you aren't vaccinated, we won't assign you games."

Lombardi also said that officials won't be required to show proof that they are vaccinated, but signing the contract is their word that they are vaccinated. If officials lie about being vaccinated, Lombardi said the penalty could be as severe.

"An official's word is their bond," Lombardi said. "If somebody plays loose and fast of that, the penalty could be severe. Meaning ... you might not get games."

PIAA assistant executive director Patrick Gebhart doesn't anticipate the new requirement to leave the PIAA shorthanded with officials.

"I don't think we'll have a shortage for the PIAA playoffs. The officials shortage we are experiencing across the state is based on the volume of events in the regular season," Gebhart said. "We have much fewer events in the playoffs so we shouldn't have any problem."

Gebhart also mentioned that COVID-19 has led to more eligible officials for the state playoffs because of the fall officials convention being on Zoom. The PIAA had more than 1,200 officials attend the online convention.

Lombardi also talked about why making vaccinations a requirement now makes the most sense.

"If you go back 18 months, we didn't have a vaccine, we didn't have a vaccine that was FDA approved and we didn't have a vaccine that was accessible to everyone," Lombardi said. "All of that has changed, and it has changed the landscape of athletics. The department of health and the governor are recommending everyone that is vaccine-eligible to get the vaccine."

The PIAA will let its 12 district committees decide independently whether to require officials to be vaccinated for district tournaments.

"We wanted to give them some flexibility," Lombardi said of the district committees. "I think you're going to see some of the districts have discussion about that and see where they want to go with that. In many cases, this is a trickle-down effect. They have a lot more games than we do, potentially."

Officials are employed as independent contractors.

The PIAA also officially adopted guidance from the PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee that recommends all "eligible student-athletes, coaches, athletic personnel and officials" be vaccinated against COVID-19. The move comes a few weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf's staff asked the PIAA to encourage its students to get vaccinated.

For most involved in high school sports, the PIAA's vaccination recommendation is just that — a recommendation. For state playoff officials, however, it will be another story.

Success formula change: The board also passed on a second reading to modify the success formula that for a team already playing up due to success, if they don't accumulate any points in the next cycle, they can move back down even if they have transfers.

The board also voted to reduce required preseason practices from 15 to 10 in all sports except football, tennis and golf starting in the fall of 2022. Both proposals still need to be approved on a third and final reading basis.

The (Greensburg) Tribune Review contributed to this story.