The PIAA board of governors voted Friday to pause the start of fall sports for two weeks to “seek dialogue” with Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and others in an effort to salvage competition in football and other athletic activities before the new year.
The announcement following a virtual executive session Friday came one day after Wolf, as well as Pennsylvania’s Department of Health and Department of Education, issued a “strong recommendation” that school-based and recreational youth sports be postponed until Jan. 1, 2021.
PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi said the association was surprised by Thursday’s recommendations and would seek further guidance and clarification from the Wolf administration as well as the state legislature.
“We’re going to do everything we can to try to get this done,” Lombardi said of efforts to stage sports such as football, soccer, field hockey, golf, tennis, cross-country, and volleyball in the fall.
In a statement, the PIAA said, “Consistent with the advice of the PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, PIAA continues to believe it can safely sponsor fall sports.”
Under the PIAA’s new guidance, heat acclimatization for football and practices for other sports would begin Aug. 24. Previously, the PIAA had set Aug. 10 as the first day of acclimatization and Aug. 17 as the first day of practice for other sports, although most leagues around the commonwealth had announced plans in recent days to delay the start of the fall season for several weeks because of COVID-19 concerns.
Friday’s decision essentially buys the PIAA two weeks to convince the Wolf administration that schools can safely stage fall sports, likely with abbreviated seasons.
“I wish we could have had a final decision,” Coatesville football coach Matt Ortega said. “At the end of the day, we just want these seniors to have a chance.”
Father Judge High athletic director Jake Serfass, the chair of the Philadelphia Catholic League, said safety must remain the top priority.
“Everyone wants to be able to play this fall; however safety is our No. 1 priority,” Serfass said. “The governor is receiving his information from top health agencies in order to make decisions. Sometimes, tough decisions need to be made.”
Lombardi said the PIAA was not prepared to move forward in defiance of the recommendations made Thursday by Wolf as well as the departments of health and education.
“I don’t believe there were members of our board who were ready for that,” Lombardi said of the possibility of moving forward with plans for fall sports despite the recommendations against it. “That’s why we’re hitting pause.”
At the end of a news conference Thursday morning, Wolf said it was his recommendation that sports be postponed until Jan. 1 at the earliest. Later on Thursday, the administration issued new guidelines jointly from the departments of health and education that further raised questions about the likelihood that fall sports would be played before the new year.
“Anytime we get together for any reason, that’s a problem because it makes it easier for the virus to spread,” Wolf said Thursday. “So the guidance from us, the recommendation is that we don’t do sports until Jan. 1.”
The PIAA’s statement requests that the governor and the departments of health and education “work collaboratively” with the PIAA to reach consensus on the fall sports. The PIAA board of directors will meet again Aug. 21.
Downingtown East football coach Mike Matta saw Friday’s developments in a positive light.
“I’m really happy they took positive action and hopefully if we continue to be safe without any spikes we can move to the next level,” Matta said.
Lombardi said PIAA officials would consider a scenario in which fall sports are played after the new year, with all three seasons condensed into the period between January and June. Several states have announced plans to try to implement that format, including Delaware.
Lombardi said one concern would be the physical demands of spring football on younger athletes, especially if they were to come back and play another football season in fall 2021.
“That’s something we would very seriously look at,” Lombardi said.
Lombardi said he and others at the PIAA were inundated with emails and phone calls from stakeholders expressing concerns about the possibility that fall sports would be postponed. Lombardi said the organization received around 7,500 emails and so many phone calls that its answering system was overwhelmed.