The Philadelphia Catholic League on Wednesday announced plans to push back the start of fall sports because of COVID-19 concerns.

Under the new format, approved by the league’s board of governors, football teams will begin heat acclimatization Aug. 31 and open their seasons the weekend of Sept. 18-19.

Teams in sports such as soccer, field hockey, girls’ volleyball, and cross-country will begin practice Sept. 14 and open their seasons the weekend of Oct. 2-3.

“The PCL is committed to a safe return to competition, but the safety and welfare of our student-athletes, coaches, and athletic staffs is the primary focus,” said Archbishop Ryan principal Joseph McFadden, chairman of the league’s board of governors.

The PCL decision follows similar moves made in recent days by the Inter-Ac League as well as some schools in the Central League and the Suburban One League. New Jersey also has pushed back the start of fall sports for high school athletes.

Philadelphia Public League operations have been suspended, pending further guidance from Gov. Tom Wolf, according to Philadelphia school district athletic director James Lynch. The school district announced last week that students would not return to school buildings until Nov. 17 at the earliest, a decision that could jeopardize fall sports.

Football teams had been scheduled to start seasons with nonleague games the weekend of Aug. 28-29.

Wednesday’s decision will have a major impact on the schedule of football teams in the PCL’s large-school Red Division, which has just five teams. Under the current schedule, powerhouse teams such as St. Joseph’s Prep and Archbishop Wood — the defending state champions in PIAA Class 6A and 5A, respectively — are slated to play just four games.

St. Joseph’s Prep, one of the nation’s top programs with players such as Ohio State recruit Kyle McCord at quarterback, Ohio State recruit Marvin Harrison Jr. at wide receiver and Clemson recruit Jeremiah Trotter Jr. at linebacker, likely will look to schedule some nonleague games, according to Hawks athletic director Danny DiBernardinis.

Marvin Harrison Jr. of St. Joseph's Prep (diving in game last season vs. La Salle) is an Ohio State recruit and one of the top wide receivers in the country.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Marvin Harrison Jr. of St. Joseph's Prep (diving in game last season vs. La Salle) is an Ohio State recruit and one of the top wide receivers in the country.

Currently, St. Joseph’s is not scheduled to play a game until the projected league opener vs. old rival La Salle the weekend of Oct. 2-3, although league schedules are expected to be adjusted in the next couple of weeks to account for the new format. Schedules for Red Division teams also could be expanded by having teams play each other twice.

“We’re making a lot of calls,” DiBernardinis said of scheduling additional games.

PCL football teams in the Blue Division, which has nine teams, are likely to be scheduled to play all eight league games. In addition, football teams could advance to district and state playoffs, which the PIAA is hoping to be able to stage in an abbreviated format.

“I’m fine with it,” said Neumann Goretti coach Albie Crosby, whose team is projected to one of the strongest squads in the Blue Division. “The delay is good. It allows guys to take the proper steps and hope to have a season for these kids.

“They’ve worked so hard. They deserve it.”

Neumann Goretti senior all-purpose Tysheem Johnson has offers from many of the country's top college programs.
LOU RABITO / Staff
Neumann Goretti senior all-purpose Tysheem Johnson has offers from many of the country's top college programs.

Neumann Goretti, which features all-purpose standout Tysheem Johnson — who has offers from Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Florida, among others— will lose scheduled games with Public League power Imhotep Charter as well as Christ the King of Brooklyn, N.Y.

St. Joseph’s Prep will lose scheduled games with defending Texas state champion Shadow Creek as well as St. John’s of Washington, D.C., and North Jersey power Don Bosco Prep.

“We were supposed to be on ESPN twice,” DiBernardinis said.

Archbishop Wood, which will be led by standout senior defensive end Robert Jackson, one of the state’s top recruits, will lose scheduled games with Malvern Prep and Penn Charter as well as national power Mount St. Joseph of Baltimore.

Archbishop Wood coach Matt Walp believes Red Division teams would be well-served to play each other twice, creating an eight-game regular season.

“I think you have to take the positive out of this,” Walp said. “This is good news. We have a structure and a plan and a foundation now to move forward.”