PIAA votes to shorten length of preseason practice for most sports from 15 to 10 days
In the era of COVID-19, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association was forced to try several things out of the norm.
Some of them worked to the point that it will be continued even if COVID-19 isn’t as prevalent as it is today.
One was reducing the number of mandatory preseason practices in most sports from 15 to 10 days.
At its monthly board of control meeting on Wednesday, board members voted by a 27-2 margin to go with 10 days of practice before games in all sports except football, golf and tennis.
In football, there will still be a requirement of five days of heat acclimatization and 10 days of practice before the first game. Scrimmages count as practices after the first five days of practice. Golf only requires three days of practice and tennis one week and those lengths will remain the same.
The new rule won’t go into effect until the new two-year cycle begins in the 2022-23 school and when it does it will lessen the burden on teams to get in practices if COVID issues or bad weather prevent teams from getting together in the time allotted between the official start of practice and the first allowed playing date.
“I want to assure everyone that this move to possibly shorten preseason from 15 to 10 days is only to allow folks at the school regular-season level to possibly gain another week of participation,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. “There is no hidden agenda here. We’re not coming up with some type of crazy idea to change all of our championships and have them done by Columbus Day.
“We’ve had a number of questions and some people have wondered why we don’t push the starting dates back a week and move the district deadlines back a week to the end of the year and so on,” Lombardi said. “But all that does is shorten the district competitions and may negatively impact district playoffs. Further, if you move the district deadline and playoffs back it will impact our state playoffs and our dates are anchored and we have contractual obligations in terms of sites.”
Lombardi said for example that if the PIAA track and field championships aren’t held at Shippensburg on Memorial Day weekend, they won’t be able to be held there later.
Due to COVID-19 regulations instituted by various school districts and Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandatory shutdown of sports for several weeks last winter, some basketball teams didn’t get to play games until late January or early February.
“We surveyed other states and found that a lot of them were only having 10 days of practice in sports other than football, because different from years ago, people are playing almost year-round,” Lombardi said. “That’s the first piece of it. The second piece is that we were continually hearing from schools who said that with three weeks of preseason and two scrimmages, if we have any weather-related cancellations we end up playing three and four games per week and they were looking for some help.”
The practice period was condensed last year for COVID reasons and Lombardi said the feedback was that “it worked out pretty well ... so we are going to do it moving forward because it gives the schools another week to play games.”
So far, so good: Lombardi said that with most fall sports either having entered postseason play or about to enter it, things have gone about as well as expected even though COVID-19 is far from out of the picture and several football games have been canceled per week.
“I’m really positive and enthusiastic about the results we’ve had,” Lombardi said. “We’ll be posting all of the district results for golf and we’re on the cusp of doing the same for tennis. We’re a couple of weeks away in football, but cross country, field hockey, and soccer are beginning their league playoffs and are measuring up for districts. So, I’d to compliment our schools and districts because they’ve done an outstanding job trying to navigate these things.”
That said, Lombardi added, every day is different.
“People are getting out there and handling what’s happening with their health and safety plans,” he said. “The schools are trying to optimize the safety of the athletes and get their seasons and tournaments completed. It’s important to remember that.”
Lombardi remembered the “grunt from everybody” when the PIAA, in conjunction with the state, had to shut down the 2020 state basketball tournament at the onset of the coronavirus.
More sports coming? The board also approved a plan and process for emerging sports to apply for PIAA sponsorship.
Currently, girls wrestling, ice hockey, and rugby are considered club sports not sanctioned by the PIAA.
“We now have a written policy and document that we can now utilize to develop an emerging sport,” Lombardi said. “We can allow people to see in writing what we would like as their intentions. Are all of the items in the document hard and fast? Not necessarily, but we’re asking you to put together a term paper that says we are looking at A, B, C, and D. Then you can ask would you consider sponsoring Esports, ice hockey, girls wrestling, rugby, all of those types of things?”
Lombardi was asked specifically about ice hockey and what it would need to become a PIAA sport.
“They could present it to us and say we have this many schools in this area and that area and here’s our structure and here’s what we are proposing,” Lombardi said. “Here’s our potential starting dates, our potential practice dates, our regular-season dates, our district dates, and here’s a proposed playoff structure.
“It’s a pretty heavy lift because there are three separate areas of our state where they’re all doing different things including the eligibility requirements to be on a team,” Lombardi said. “But this gives us a policy and a starting point of what they need to do.”
Football sites: Last year during the peak of COVID-19, home sites of schools were used during the playoffs until the state finals were staged at Hershey. This year, home sites will be used again, but only during the first round.
“After the first round we are going to do our best to look at midway sites for the two teams,” Lombardi said.
Competition formula tweaked: The PIAA has tweaked its competitive-balance formula, making it a little easier for teams already forced into a higher classification to eventually drop back down.
According to the change approved Wednesday, if a PIAA-promoted team finishes a two-year cycle with no "success points," that team can drop one classification, regardless of whether the team added any new transfers.
Harassment bill: The PIAA formally threw its support to a bill introduced to the state legislature by Rep. Anita Astorino-Kulik, D-Allegheny, that would make it a crime to harass a sports official verbally.
Currently, it is a crime in Pennsylvania to assault sports officials physically. But Kulik's legislation makes verbal harassment of an official a third-degree misdemeanor punishable up to six months in jail and a fine up to $2,500.
Lombardi said he understands the bill might eventually include protection of coaches from verbal harassment.
Break on live streaming: The PIAA also passed a new measure that gives schools a discount in paying rights fees if they want to live stream their teams playing in a PIAA postseason contest.
The discount is only for schools live streaming, and not for any other for-profit video streaming service.
Schools will pay $300 to live stream PIAA football games in any round, $200 for any PIAA basketball game and $100 for all other sports.
The (Greensburg) Tribune-Review and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contributed to this report.