WPIAL finals at Heinz Field in question as PIAA considers shorter football season

Monday, July 27, 2020 | 4:48 PM

The WPIAL might not use Heinz Field for its football championships this fall for multiple reasons.

Holding the games there wouldn’t be affordable if the governor maintains a 250-person limit on gatherings, WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said Monday, adding “we couldn’t even pay the bill for the lighting.”

But there’s also serious discussion at the PIAA level to move the state football championships to November, she said, which would push the WPIAL playoffs earlier as well. The PIAA is exploring a shortened timeline that would have all fall sports seasons end before Thanksgiving in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The PIAA board meets online Wednesday.

“If there’s going to be changes to when schools qualify or when they have to be done, that’s really going to change what our playoffs look like,” Scheuneman said. “We just need to wait and see if any changes are made.”

For now, the WPIAL has Heinz Field tentatively reserved for Nov. 21 — the weekend before Thanksgiving. The WPIAL has used Heinz Field or Three Rivers Stadium as host for its football championships for decades.

Going there again this fall wasn’t ruled out, but it could be difficult.

“Heinz Field is open to having us,” Scheuneman said. “I know that.”

Wednesday’s PIAA board meeting will focus heavily on fall sports and covid-19 plans.

Among the discussion items, the PIAA may reduce the number of state qualifiers in other fall sports including soccer, cross country, tennis and volleyball. The sport-specific steering committees met last week and all recommended that the state playoffs, if needed, be modified to include only district champions.

Covid-19 guidelines for teams, coaches and officials will be finalized Wednesday.

Scheuneman was hopeful playoff dates would be finalized as well, allowing the WPIAL to move forward with planning its football playoffs.

In a normal year, the state football championships are held in December. This year’s would be Dec. 10-12, if left unchanged. But in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the PIAA may choose to conclude its playoffs before the Nov. 26 holiday.

With so much uncertainty, the WPIAL board tabled its football playoffs discussion Monday when the group met for a workshop session at the Chartiers Valley administration building. The WPIAL still needs to decide how many football teams from each classification qualify for its playoffs and choose championship sites.

The board hopes to have those answers Thursday when it meets again online. The WPIAL voted to delay action until after the PIAA board meets Wednesday.

“We don’t want to act because in two days we could be turning around,” Scheuneman said.

Football is the only PIAA fall sport that holds its state championships after Thanksgiving. A switch could force the WPIAL to adjust its regular-season schedule or eliminate rounds from its playoffs.

However, there’s still no guarantee football season reaches that point in the calendar under covid-19 concerns.

Football teams are scheduled to begin heat acclimatization Aug. 10 with practices starting Aug. 17. The PIAA board has said it’s sticking to that timeline unless something occurs outside of its control.

“We’re all talking November,” Scheuneman said. “We’ve got to get past August first.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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