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Pennsylvania coaches work with PIAA on possible plans to save high school football season

STEVE BENNETT
(Wilkes-Barre) Times-Tribune (TNS)
Garry Cathell

Pennsylvania's high school football coaches want to have a season.

That much is readily apparent.

So does the PIAA.

That's why the two groups are working hard to come up with possible plans to save the upcoming season, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

At its last board of directors meeting, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association revealed its plan that the fall sports season would proceed as normal the way things stand.

That means heat acclimatization week for football teams would begin Aug. 10 with the rest of the official fall sports season practices starting Aug. 17. Of course, that could change as the state continues to determine the impact the coronavirus will have on the ability to have a fall sports season at all.

Bob Lombardi

In the meantime, Garry Cathell, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association, has been in regular contact with PIAA Executive Director Robert Lombardi, submitting proposals and exchanging thoughts and ideas about what a football season could look like in the fall.

“We presented quite a few proposals to them, it has been really good working with Dr. Lombardi and his staff,” Cathell said. “There has been a lot of back and forth.”

Forming committees: Trying to be proactive, the PSFCA formed several committees to examine potential ways football could be played in the fall. The PIAA is set to meet again July 29 and will continue to take directives from Gov. Tom Wolf’s office as well as other state medical experts.

“We put together different proposals from what the fall would look like from the regular August start time into an October starting date,” Cathell said. “The PIAA steering committee is scheduled to meet, and the board meets later in the month. There will be many things discussed that will help coaches and some questions and concerns will be answered once the PIAA gets to talk about some things.”

Looking for at least three weeks of practice: The main premise behind the PSFCA proposals is giving football teams at least three weeks of practice time before games can be played. It was broken down into how many practices teams would have and what those practices would look like. The proposals also contained nine different start dates starting with the standardized season beginning Aug. 10 all the way through an October start date, if necessary.

“What I told my committee to do is take from the August start date and kick start the date back every two weeks,” Cathell said. “As you keep moving it back you keep knocking things off the back end. Even if we started on September 1 as a first day you would still have a state playoffs scenario. After it gets passed that, the state playoff chances are probably not likely.”

Possible scenarios: Cathell indicated if there is a scenario where it is not be feasible to have state playoffs, he could see the postseason coming to an end at the district level. Along the same lines, the furthest proposal put together calls for a seven-game season and leagues can determine conference champs.

“We want our kids to play, we want our coaches to coach,” Cathell said. “If we only have a conference schedule, then maybe who wins the conference gets bragging rights. The most important thing is to have games.”

Spring models: If football in the fall is not a possibility, there have been internal discussions within the PSFCA to put together a spring model and present it to the PIAA. Though those discussions have not been as extensive as the ones attempting to get the season kicked off on time, the thought process from the PSFCA would be to have winter sports begin in January, have the fall sports begin in March with the spring sports beginning in May. Of course, all those seasons would be condensed in order to get all three respective sports seasons in.

“There are two scenarios that can put a damper on things to try and start on time,” Cathell said. “One would be if the governor’s office says there is not going to be any sports or school in the fall. It shuts that down real quick. The second would be if individual school districts say they are not going to play sports this year.”