PIAA ‘disappointed’ with answers in meeting with Gov. Wolf’s staff

Friday, August 14, 2020 | 3:45 PM

In a word, Friday’s meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf’s staff was “uneventful.”

PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi offered that analysis after an unproductive conversation regarding Wolf’s recommended shutdown of fall sports. The governor isn’t budging from his recommendation, and his staff wasn’t receptive to concerns raised by the PIAA.

“There are issues that we would really like to discuss,” Lombardi said. “I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get better answers.”

Now, the PIAA has a decision to make.

The PIAA hasn’t closed the door on future talks with the governor’s office, Lombardi said. But the clock is ticking, fall sports start Aug. 24, and the PIAA appears ready to move ahead without Wolf’s support.

If the PIAA board agrees at an Aug. 21 meeting to allow sports, Lombardi predicted a majority of member schools will suit up despite the governor’s recommendation.

But before that vote, the PIAA has a busy week ahead. Lombardi said the PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee will reconvene to offer its guidance, and the strategic planning committee also might meet before next Friday.

Additionally, PIAA administrators were invited to meet Tuesday with the Pa. Athletic Oversight Committee, a bipartisan group of state legislators.

“We still have a few miles to go yet,” Lombardi said.

Wolf wants interscholastic and recreational youth sports postponed until at least Jan. 1, a recommendation supported by the state departments of health and education, to prevent potential coronavirus spread. Wolf has said his recommendation isn’t a mandate, and locally elected school boards should decide whether sports are played, a position reiterated Friday.

“The governor made his recommendation, not an order or mandate, for schools to postpone the fall sports schedule,” press secretary Lyndsay Kensinger said. “The administration left the decision to the local schools and the PIAA.”

However, the PIAA has concern some districts view the governor’s words as a mandate. If the PIAA approves sports, districts still must decide whether ignoring the recommendation would create any legal liability, an issue the PIAA raised Friday.

“We asked the (governor’s) staff specifically if the administration would consider providing liability coverage for our schools, because I think it would take some of the pressure off the school administrations,” Lombardi said. “I think that would be important. We asked, and they said they’d get back to us.”

If talks continue with Wolf’s administration, the PIAA suggested adding bipartisan members of the state House and Senate. A number of state legislators expressed support for fall sports in recent days.

“Let’s get us all together and figure out a way because this isn’t about Republicans or Democrats,” Lombardi said. “This is about students playing athletics and trying to provide a safe, healthy environment for them to learn life lessons on the playing surface.

“If we all work together, we can solve this,” he added. “If there’s division, that’s unfortunate, but we’ll continue to advocate for student-athletes.”

The PIAA also raised two issues involving current state restrictions on gathering sizes. Girls volleyball matches would be limited to 25 people indoors, which Lombardi called “totally unfair.” Also, Wolf has a ban on all spectators at school-sponsored sporting events. The PIAA wanted those amended.

“They’re two huge issues that are important to us,” Lombardi said. “We have heard loud and clear from the general public that they’re important to them as well. We’re going to keep working on it.”

Among fall sports, Lombardi ranked tennis, golf and cross country as easiest to conduct under covid-19 restrictions, with girls volleyball, field hockey and soccer among the next best.

“Football is a little different,” Lombardi said. “But we think they all deserve (to play), and we’re not removing anybody from the table at this point.”

Wolf’s spokesperson noted a number of colleges have canceled fall sports in recent days.

“The Big Ten, Pac-12, Big East and other conferences have decided to postpone their fall seasons,” Kensinger said. “Athletes are in close contact, not just on the field but in locker rooms and in transit. The virus is not stopping and spreads more easily when people are in close contact.

“As the school year approaches, we will continue to work with schools to prepare. We want to do everything we can to create a safe environment for children to return to school. Minimizing our exposure to covid-19 is paramount. Our focus remains on safely getting students back to learning and, if possible, in the classroom.”

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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