PIAA gives teams home-field advantage in state playoffs

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 | 5:22 PM

Some WPIAL teams will have a home-field advantage in the state playoffs.

The PIAA board decided Wednesday to forgo traditional neutral sites and let teams at the top of the bracket host state playoff games, a move prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The change affects all fall team sports.

Finding neutral sites willing to host became more complicated under covid-19 conditions, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said, but other factors also were involved. He noted this decision reduces travel for one team and saves the PIAA money, since it won’t need to pay a rental fee.

“It’s a multitude of factors,” Lombardi said. “One, it’s a concern of covid. Two, it’s travel, because now instead of two groups traveling, you have only one. Three, it’s site recognition.

“Because there is a number of places that will says say, ‘You bring your school over to my place and we’ll play a game. We do it all year long.’ But a neutral site says, ‘Wait a minute, we’re letting two strange schools on our campus and we have no control over that? We don’t want to do that.’”

Starting this fall, the team listed higher on the PIAA bracket is the home team and can play on its own field or court, assuming that school has adequate facilities to host.

The rule change applies only for opponents on the same side of the state. If a matchup involves one team from the east against another from the west, the PIAA will find a neutral site in the middle, Lombardi said.

The new policy includes all tournament rounds except the championship.

It’s a break from recent tradition. With the exception of team wrestling, the PIAA hasn’t let team host state playoff contest.

“Sometimes it happens at the district level,” Lombardi said, “but it hasn’t happened at the state level back to when Dr. (Russell) Werner came here (as PIAA executive director) and that was 1980. So, it’s been awhile.”

The PIAA board met online Wednesday. Among its other actions:

• The board approved covid-19 return to competitions guidelines for winter sports. Lombardi said he remains “cautiously optimistic” that winter sports will start next month as scheduled.

The covid-19 guidelines for basketball, competitive spirit, swimming and wrestling provide game-day advice for social distancing, health screenings, sanitation and other topics.

• If a team’s practices are shut down for more than three days, it would need three days of practice before resuming interscholastic competition, under a policy change the PIAA is considering. The policy, used now in strike situations, would expand to include other temporary shutdowns.

And practice can’t be online.

“Practice is practice,” Lombardi said. “Physical, contact practice, on the court, on the surface, on the competition surface. It’s not virtual. It’s not a meeting. It’s practice.”

The change was approved on a first-read basis and would need to pass two more votes.

• The PIAA previously said fall sports teams may schedule regular-season contests until Thanksgiving weekend, but it clarified Wednesday that teams are limited to the equivalent of each sport’s maximum regular-season limit.

For example, if a football team reaches 10 combined regular-season and playoff games, it cannot schedule additional regular-season contests.

• Hersheypark Stadium attendance for each PIAA football championship might be capped at 2,200. Lombardi said the PIAA met with stadium administrators last week and discussed allowing 1,100 fans on each side.

“That was a number that they provided based on their calculations,” Lombardi said. “But we’re not in the final stages of that yet. That number may change a little.”

• Board members discussed adding a pay-to-play fee for state playoff qualifiers but took no action.

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

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