Some changes to fall sports timeline still on the table after PIAA meeting

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020 | 9:22 PM


Fall sports season might end earlier for some schools and start a little later for others.

The PIAA board approved two proposals Wednesday that could alter the fall timeline, but for now everything remains as originally scheduled.

One proposal gives the PIAA permission to reduce the number of qualifiers entering the state playoffs and championships, if needed, to end the fall seasons earlier in November. State playoffs for team sports would include only district champions, and individual sports would have fewer championship participants, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said.

“If there’s concern among some of our schools that we cannot get through playoff season, this would be an alternate opportunity to do that,” Lombardi said.

The PIAA board met online Wednesday and discussed fall sports at length. Along with approving sport-specific guidelines for covid-19, the PIAA tried to build some flexibility into the fall schedule.

There was concern that the traditional schedule for state playoffs would coincide with an annual rise in influenza cases, which shares some symptoms with covid-19.

“Having (the state playoffs) in warmer weather and better outdoor air-quality conditions lends itself to staying away from flu season, which starts in mid to late November,” Lombardi said. “We’re trying to have as many events in the best optimal weather as possible.”

However, shifting the football playoffs earlier would require districts to shrink their regular season or playoffs. That could threaten the WPIAL’s use of Heinz Field for the football championship.

For now, the PIAA hasn’t decided to take that option.

“Not at this time,” Lombardi said. “That may be forthcoming based on how the season starts.”

The PIAA board meets again Aug. 26.

Another proposal approved Wednesday provided an alternate mid-September start date for school districts not ready to begin competition next month.

The new date is voluntary.

Otherwise, fall sports remain on schedule to start Aug. 10 with heat acclimatization for football. Practices for all sports begin the following Monday, Aug. 17. The first play dates also remain the same with golf on Aug. 20, tennis on Aug. 24, football on Aug. 28, and the remaining fall sports on Sept. 4.

Under the “alternate start” plan approved Wednesday, football teams at those schools would play their first games Sept. 18. All other sports would start competition a few days earlier on Sept. 14.

A third option, called a “hybrid start,” would let schools, leagues or conferences begin contests any time during the regular season before Oct. 5.

Schools already were allowed to start their seasons later, but some had requested target dates, Lombardi said. The PIAA noted in its release that covid-19 had impacted counties differently and “understands the flexibility needed by school districts to make localized measured decisions, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

The PIAA acknowledged that if schools in the same conference choose different start dates, that will cause scheduling headaches.

“Now that we’ve given this direction to leagues, conferences and districts, people are going to go back, sit down and say, ‘How is this going to work for us? Who’s going to start where?’” Lombardi said. “The chatter that was coming in was a lot of people were under an awful lot of pressure to delay their start for a lot of reasons, possibly until after Labor Day.”

He said that was true particularly near Philadelphia.

The PIAA also discussed what to do if a team is forced to cancel a game because of covid-19 concerns. If it’s a regular-season game, the WPIAL or one of the PIAA’s other 11 district committees can declare it “no contest” rather than a forfeit, Lombardi said.

That doesn’t apply to playoffs, where one team must advance. If a team is unable to play in the postseason, it must forfeit.

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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