Preparations to play fall sports in Pennsylvania continue with the intent that everything will begin and be played as scheduled.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) voted 29-3 during Wednesday afternoon’s Board of Directors meeting to pass the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) minutes.
Heat acclimatization for football begins on Aug. 10, with fall sports practice beginning on Aug. 17.
PIAA director Dr. Robert Lombardi emphasized the PIAA’s motto for 2020 — Protect yourself, protect others, protect the season.
Two of the three no votes came from the Principals representative (Jonathan Bauer of Upper Merion High School) and School Board representative (Dr. Richard L. Frerichs) because they didn’t think the PIAA protocols matched what the Department of Education mandated in certain situations.
The 26-page return to play guide is posted on the PIAA website — piaa.org.
“We developed these plans with the Department of Health and the Governor’s office, and this is what we came up with,” Lombardi said.
As of Wednesday night, it’s a full go for the PIAA, but they do have some contingencies in place for school districts in areas that have been harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic. School districts have an option to start on time, use what was called an alternate date with a Sept. 18 start date for football or a hybrid approach with a first football game no later that Oct. 5. All of the start date decisions will come from the individual school districts.
“Some of our school districts said they were getting pressured to come up with something if they couldn’t start on time,” Lombardi said.
The PIAA also came up with an alternate state playoff schedule they could implement if need be, which would limit the state playoffs to just district champions, and lessen the amount of qualifiers for tennis and cross-country. The PIAA will decide what to do about the state playoffs at its next meeting at 3 p.m. on Aug. 26 after getting a read on how the first 10 days of practice go in the state.
“We understand we may have to make adjustments to everything,” Lombardi said. “We wanted a plan to be done by Thanksgiving. Some of our school districts are worried about what happens when flu season hits.”
The PIAA is allowing plenty of leeway with postponing and playing of games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. District 10 chairman Pete Iacino did the legwork on coming up with some of the scenarios in the face of a COVID-19 positive. First the team must quarantine for 14 days, according to CDC guidelines, and the team’s games will be postponed, of course.
The PIAA is leaving an opening to allow teams to play their regular-season games until the day of the state final of their respective sports — if the teams don’t qualify for the district playoffs — to give teams a chance to play a full regular season.
“We needed to come up with a plan to give these kids as many chances as we could to complete their seasons,” Iacino said.
The downside is that games will probably need to be forfeited if an outbreak occurs during the district or state playoffs, due to time constraints.
Lombardi also said that if a school district decides not to offer fall sports that the PIAA transfer rules would still apply. A player wouldn’t be eligible at another school if they transferred for athletic reasons.
Also on the bad news front, it doesn’t seem as though fans will be allowed at games. The PIAA has protocols for that, but Department of Health regulations don’t currently allow fans at sporting events.
The biggest issue right now in fall sports is that fewer than 25 people are allowed together indoors do to restrictions. Though most fall sports are outdoors, both girls volleyball and water polo are contested indoors. Lourdes Regional, Shamokin and Millersburg field girls volleyball teams in the area.
“It’s pretty hard do volleyball with less than 25 people,” Lombardi said. “We’ve been trying to see if we could get some leeway on volleyball and water polo. A lot of players rotate in-and-out on a volleyball team, and I don’t think we can ask a kid to swim for an hour straight.”