The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) may not have said much this summer about fall sports, other than expressing its aim to start play on time in August.
However, the body has been forced to consider different scenarios, depending on how the coronavirus pandemic shakes out this fall.
Top of mind is whether there will be a blanket re-opening of high school sports across the state, or if it will be evaluated on a district-by-district basis. Another hot topic is the possibility of moving the fall sports season to the spring, which is an idea that has been floated at the collegiate level.
The first question is actually pretty simple to answer.
Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi says the PIAA Board of Directors is adamant that schools play as much of a fall season as they are safely able to play. That could mean that some schools play most of their fall schedules, while others play only a fraction.
“Our state is quite diverse — almost 75 percent of it is rural — (so) we are willing to get as much (fall sports) in as we can,” Lombardi said. “One area of the state could play 75 percent of the schedule, and another part of the state could play 25 percent. The board is OK with that.”
Lombardi said the state playoffs for fall sports are not yet in jeopardy. When schools were suspended (and ultimately closed) at the outset of the pandemic in early March, the state basketball playoffs were halted prior to the quarterfinals, and the Class 2A swimming championships were cancelled.
“It’s a little premature in July to make a decision about December,” Lombardi said, “but we are committed to the state playoffs.”
Lombardi also said the PIAA plans to adapt to the situation.
“(The fall sports season) could end in the regular season; it could end at the district (playoff) level,” Lombardi said. “These are all questions that need to be answered, but in the future.
“We’ve seen other people step up and put out plans in other states, only to have them blown up by other (governing) departments they have no control over.”
That leads to another question: Is there a plan if a player — or several members of a team — tests positive for COVID-19?
Lombardi said the scenario has been discussed, but there may be different rules for the regular season and postseason.
“The answers are to be determined,” Lombardi said. “We’ve had some quality discussion on the regular season being different than the postseason. We are thinking in the regular season, you can postpone a contest or even decide its a no contest. You are under a time constraint in the postseason.
“We want to kick the tires on that — get that (idea) to the athletic directors and coaches — then come up with a state-wide policy.”
Shifting the fall sports schedule to spring seems to be a last resort for the PIAA. Unlike with college sports, where multi-sport athletes are far less common and fewer facilities are shared, the fall and spring high school schedules could not overlap.
“Our intent is to play the fall as scheduled, even if it would end up in a shortened or altered fashion,” Lombardi said. “It’s also wrought with concerns about overuse as well.
“If fall goes to spring, does spring lose two years in a row? That’s inadequate.”
One idea is to swap the seasons, and hold the spring’s non-contact sports such as baseball, softball, and track and field this fall. That plan is not without flaws.
Lombardi offered the state track and field championships, as an example. The athletes for the state meet are typically housed overnight at Shippensburg University following the spring semester. Lombardi indicated it would be difficult to stage the state meet in any college setting if the fall semester is still in session.
Despite those drawbacks, Lombardi wouldn’t rule out such a move.
“Could it come to playing in the spring? It would be a last resort,” he said.
“But a last resort is better than no resort.”
n Wrestling weights
On the wrestling front, the PIAA approved a plan to cut the number of weight classes from 14 to 13. It’s the first time Pennsylvania has dropped a weight class, and it’s the first adjustment to the weights in 18 years.
The weight classes will remain the same from 106 pounds through 160. The upper weights will lose the 182-pound weight class, condensing five weights into four. The new upper weights will be 172 pounds, 189, 215 and 285. The new weight classes were approved by a 9-0 vote.
n Winter championships
The PIAA announced that winter sports championships — competitive cheer, boys and girls basketball, team wrestling and individual wrestling — would remain at Hershey’s Giant Center, while the swimming and diving championships will remain at Bucknell University through the 2023-2024 school year. That measure also passed by a 9-0 vote.
n Junior high/junior varsity football
The PIAA passed a rule to allow coaches to modify junior high and junior varsity rules for scrimmages.
At the sub-varsity level in football, a team may participate in a maximum number of two scrimmages and 10 games, or a combination of 12 scrimmages and games. The PIAA hopes that teams will discuss the rule changes and make a decision to change a game into a scrimmage during the week before the contest is played.
It will start as a one-year pilot program and be reevaluated next summer. According Dr. Peter P. Iacino, a member of the PIAA football steering committee, the committee wants to see how the new rule works because a lot of schools have had trouble fielding full junior high and J.V. football teams over the past few seasons.
Todd Hummel covers high school sports for The Daily Item. Contact him at email@example.com