MECHANICSBURG — “Protect yourself, protect others, protect the season.”
Dr. Robert A. Lombardi echoed that quote during a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletics Association (PIAA) Board of Directors meeting Wednesday following the association’s approval of a return-to-play format that includes three recommended options for schools to follow and go about their fall sports seasons.
“We feel it’s vitally important to give student-athletes the opportunity to be student-athletes,” PIAA executive director Lombardi said.
Approved on a 30-2 vote, the three recommended options — standard, alternative, hybrid — will be decided upon at a local level and delegated to each school district to make a decision depending on the severity of COVID-19 in its surrounding community.
Addressing its decision to delegate the starting date of fall sports to each school district, an official statement by the PIAA stated, “In addressing the COVID-19 crisis and how it has affected the 67 counties differently, PIAA understands the flexibility needed by school districts to make localized measured decisions, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach in addressing interscholastic athletics.”
The standard option allows athletics to continue with its original
schedule, with heat acclimatization beginning Aug. 10 and the first date of mandatory practices starting Aug. 17. The first date of athletic competitions would be Aug. 24 and football would kick off the night of Aug. 28.
An alternative schedule pushes the first date of athletic competitions back until Sept. 14, which pushes the first football game — if played on a Friday — back to Sept. 18.
The hybrid schedule puts the first date for fall sports competitions back to Oct. 5 — which may be later for a school pending a request to a district — and puts the opening game of Friday night football to Oct. 9.
Though a school has the option to choose one of the above options or a combination of the alternative and hybrid schedules, every sport must complete preseason practice guidelines specific to each sport. Three weeks is the minimum requirement of preseason practices for all sports excluding golf (three days) and tennis (one week).
Jonathon Bauer, who was one of two PIAA members to vote against the ruling, stated his reasoning to vote against this motion was the inconsistency in schools returning to the classroom.
There are a variety of extenuating circumstances that could steer a season into one direction or another, which is a reason why the PIAA has been remaining flexible with its plan and offered three different options with recommended target dates to fit a school’s situation.
“People say, ‘you have this what-if and this what-if…’ But the biggest what-if is what if we don’t try. If we don’t try to get a season for students, I think we’re failing,” Lombardi said. “We need to do our darnedest to give them an opportunity.”
The plan put forth by the PIAA is designed to give students this opportunity despite the many hypothetical situations and circumstances. The plan was completed with the cooperation of the state’s health department and governor’s office, but Gov. Wolf would have the authority to deem there be no high school sports.
If a school district chooses to start its season on either the alternative or hybrid schedules, it will be able to make up those games before the end of the district’s deadline for regular season games, which will be determined by each district committee.
At any point in the resumed season, if a player on the team contracts the virus, he or she must adhere to the current guideline put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states the person must quarantine for 14 days. The team must also immediately shut down its practice and follow the same protocol. It was not confirmed whether or not the team must postpone two weeks of the season if everyone else on the team, including its staff, tests negative during that time frame.
If a school decides it is unable to play a contest in the midst of its season, the cancelation must be reported to its designated district chairman with its reasoning. The outcome of that game would be ruled no contest or the district could move its end-of-season deadline and it could be rescheduled.
A team that qualifies for districts despite not being able to finish its regular season will advance to playoffs. A team that doesn’t qualify for playoffs would continue to play its season against other schools that also did not finish its schedule and didn’t qualify for the postseason.
When a non-student-athlete in a specific school district contracts the coronavirus, the school district will adhere to its own safety plan.
State playoff format
The PIAA will only allow district champions to participate in state playoffs if schools follow the route of an alternative or hybrid schedule — or combination of the two. Football is not affected under this since it already only allows district champs into states and there will be another way of conducting state championships for golf and cross country.
PIAA will hold its next meeting Wednesday, Aug. 26, to discuss playoff brackets and review its current situation based on the first two weeks of practices for fall sports.
That meeting is scheduled two days before the first game of high school football, according to the original schedule that follows the standard schedule.
No fans in stands
Currently, under the guidelines for outdoor and indoor gatherings, no fans are permitted to any sporting event.
The maximum capacity for outdoor gatherings is 250 people while the maximum capacity for indoor gatherings is 25.
Indoor sports, such as volleyball and water polo, face a more daunting obstacle with the lower number of attendees since there are more than 25 players between the two teams, their staffs, referees and game operation staff members. However, these two numbers for gatherings are likely to change prior to the first day of fall competitions and there have been discussions between the PIAA and state government departments in regard to these gathering numbers, according to Lombardi.