PIAA worried Pa. high school teams using COVID-19 issues to avoid unfavorable opponents

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

The PIAA is worried teams may be using COVID-19 issues as a way to avoid an unfavorable opponent, so the board on Wednesday debated at length a policy that would've made regular season cancellations forfeits.

Ultimately, the board voted against the policy change and agreed to instead provide the information only as "guidance" for the PIAA's 12 district committees. But the PIAA remained skeptical about the motivation behind some postponements and cancellations already this fall.

"Board members were concerned hearing from their constituents and membership that they think 'School A' may be ducking somebody," PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. "Or they have a squad of 45 (players) and eight are out. ... That's some of the anecdotal information that was given to the board, so they felt we should reduce this to writing."

The proposal included three directives:

1. In the event a regular season contest is postponed for whatever reason, including covid-19 issues, all attempts must be made to reschedule that contest during the regular season.

2. If the contest cannot be rescheduled, the failure of a team to participate in a scheduled contest shall constitute an automatic forfeit, regardless of the reason thereof, unless the school not participating convinces the district committee that it made reasonable efforts to avoid an outbreak and that its failure to participate was unavoidable, in which event the district committee may treat the matter as if the contest had not been scheduled (no contest).

3. If a school has sufficient personnel who are not subject to quarantine to participate in a contest but chooses not to play, that school will forfeit the contest.

The board discussed the policy for 30 minutes, ending with a rare roll call vote.

"What some people are doing, at least anecdotally ... you canceled the game but still are holding practice," Lombardi said. "That seems to fly in the face of canceling the game."

The PIAA noted that current rules already consider canceling or rescheduling a contest for competitive reasons to be unsportsmanlike behavior. Additionally, under longstanding regulations, the failure of any team to compete in a scheduled game counts as an automatic forfeit, but district committees have relaxed that rule during the pandemic.

Since the proposal became only guidance, district committees may continue that approach.

"Under our rules and regulations, a cancellation for any reason is a forfeiture," Lombardi said. "We've had that on the books since probably the Eisenhower administration."

The board considered a motion to implement the new policy retroactive to Aug. 19, but that vote failed 17-9. Four board members connected to the WPIAL were among the 17 in opposition. The board then voted unanimously to provide the language of the policy to schools as guidance.

"They want to use that as guidance," Lombardi said, "so that people aren't playing loose and fast."