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PIAA planning committee opposes earlier start for high school fall season

CHRIS HARLAN
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
Central York's Isaiah Sturgis runs the ball while St. Joseph's Prep defends during PIAA Class 6-A football championship action at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. There has been a proposal to have an earlier start to the fall high school sports season. That idea has not met with approval from the PIAA strategic planning committee.

The PIAA doesn't have a prognosticating groundhog, but after hearing from its strategic planning committee, it doesn't look like fall sports will arrive any earlier next school year.

By a two-to-one margin, "starting earlier is not something (the 12 PIAA districts) would embrace at this time," the planning committee said when it met last week.

An earlier start could let the PIAA hold its state football championships before Thanksgiving, an idea PIAA administrators have mentioned favorably.

The planning committee was tasked with debating that possibility, but the group didn't immediately endorse the idea, according to meeting minutes from Feb. 10. The committee recognized that most fall sports already conclude before Thanksgiving, so this was primarily a football concern.

"At this time, it's too early to make such a decision," the planning committee said. Instead, the PIAA should "develop possible scenarios and reduce them to writing so all may view what the schedules would look like if this is to be considered."

The full PIAA board meets online Wednesday.

The planning committee agreed that holding the football finals in November allows for better championship weather, but an earlier start date would impact summer vacations and could increase concerns about weather conditions for preseason practices.

The PIAA board had asked the committee to review the adjustments it made last fall to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, believing some could merit future use. Moving the football finals from December to November was one of the PIAA's biggest adjustments last year.

However, that earlier finish required many districts to either shorten their regular season, reduce their number of playoff rounds or both. Starting football season earlier would be one of many way to keep the finals in November, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said last month.

"We may start where we are right now with heat (acclimatization)," Lombardi said when the PIAA board met Jan. 27. "We may move a week earlier. We may reduce the number of regular-season games. We may look at shortened playoffs. There are a whole lot of things to consider there, including the possible shortening of preseason practice.

"That's really for the committee to get into the laboratory and have some discussion back and forth," he added. "There's a whole lot of possibility."

The planning committee debated reducing the number of district or interdistrict qualifiers but was philosophically opposed to that idea.

There was a "general consensus" among members to keep preseason practice requirements at 10 days rather than 15, a temporary move the PIAA made this winter. If approved by the PIAA board, the permanent practice reduction would benefit teams this spring as well.

However, the committee recommended that football requirements remain at 15 days of practice, starting with five days of heat acclimatization.