The PIAA approved a return to competition plan on Wednesday that allows 2020 scholastic fall sports to begin as scheduled.
By a 29-3 vote, the PIAA Board of Directors accepted guidelines and health protocols recommended to safely start the fall season. It also approved a policy statement issued by the PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee that reads: “Based on currently known information, the Committee believes that STRICT ADHERENCE by schools and teams to their school-adopted plans and the Governor’s School Sports Guidance should provide a reasonably safe environment for student athletes to participate in interscholastic athletics as currently scheduled.”
In addition, the PIAA board offered unprecedented flexibility to schools and conferences.
Heat acclimatization for high school football is to begin on Aug. 10, with practice for the remaining fall sports set for Aug. 17. The opening day of competition for golf is Aug. 20, girls’ tennis is Aug. 24 and football is Aug. 28. Other fall sports begin varsity competition on Sept. 4.
In addition to the traditional model, PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi outlined two other options. An alternate plan has football games beginning on Sept. 18 and all other sports on Sept. 14, providing teams meet the required three weeks of preseason. Golf and tennis are exempt from the preseason requirement.
A hybrid model would allow schools to begin competition at any point before Oct. 5, so long as the preseason training is met.
In relation to the starting models, Lombardi said the PIAA is considering shortening its state playoffs. While no changes have been made to the original tournaments, a version where only district champions would qualify is being considered and will be discussed at the board’s next meeting on Aug. 26.
Various guidelines for each sport are included in the strategic plan, including changes for football season. The football steering committee recommended face shields for players to be worn on the field and sidelines, and team boxes extended to the 10-yard-lines to maximize social distancing. A reduction of team rosters for games, the minimization of offensive and defensive huddles, and requiring officials to wear masks upon entering stadium grounds are also included.
Lombardi confirmed that should a player from a team test positive for COVID, the entire team would be under quarantine for 10-14 days, based upon current Center for Disease Control guidelines. The scheduled games during the quarantine period would not necessarily be counted as forfeits.
If a school is forced to cancel a game because of COVID, the school’s principal must report it in writing to the opponent and district chairman. The district committee may deem it a non-game rather than a forfeit during the regular season, which would allow the contest to be made up at a later date.
Another piece to that scenario is the extension of seasonal deadlines. Schools that do not qualify for playoffs may play re-scheduled games after the regular season to recapture lost games. Regular season games of that manner can be played up until the playoffs are concluded.
“We’re giving more flexibility for schools to work cooperatively, whether it’s a scheduled game or not,” said Lombardi. “It’s up to the district. Schools can then seek to make up or recapture those lost games after regular season ends, providing they’re not in playoffs.”
A guideline that currently affects all fall sports is the absence of fans at games.
“We’re anticipating in most of our scenarios there will be no spectators at games,” Lombardi confirmed.
He added that the PIAA is working with the Department of Health, Department of Education and the governor’s office in relation to spectator guidelines and he would like to see parents of seniors attend games, but currently that “is out of our hands”.
During a question-and-answer session with media members following the general meeting on Wednesday, Lombardi acknowledged that the PIAA is working through a multitude of challenges but if even a portion of the fall season can be played, the efforts are worthwhile.
“We’re trying our darndest,” he said. “People are saying, ‘you have this what-if and you have this what-if, and all these plans. The biggest what-if is this: What if we don’t try? If we don’t try to get something out of the season for students, I think we’re failing them. We need to do our darndest to help them become successful.”