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BREAKING NEWS: PIAA approves football for the fall

Written by: on Friday, August 21st, 2020. Follow Joseph Santoliquito on Twitter.


Someone finally put their foot down. What had been speculation for months came to fruition on Friday when the PIAA board of directors voted 25-5 to have fall sports, meaning a high school football season, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote goes against Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf’s August 6th recommendation—not mandate—that interscholastic and recreational youth sports be postponed until January 2021.

PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi has been a staunch advocate for fall sports to be played throughout this ordeal.

“I think the board took two weeks to weigh very seriously what their constituents were saying, and I think that was a good thing as illustrated by the vote,” Lombardi said. “Under this proposal, it could be possible (to also have a football season during the spring for schools that cannot play in the fall). As we worked through this, we were hoping to get something off the ground here.

“Nothing is given, because you certainly don’t know what’s around the corner. We’re trying our best to be student advocates. We’re trying to provide them with interscholastic athletic education that is part of the school day.”

Spectators will not be allowed to attend football games, as of now. Nor does it look like there will be any postseason plans—but that option was not completely ruled out, though it does not seem very feasible under these current conditions.

Opposing the PIAA’s move was the Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s Nathan Mains, Superintendent Association’s Lee Ann Wentzel, Principal’s Association Jonathan Bauer, District 7 rep Mike Allison and District 8 rep Karen Arnold.

The Central League, Ches-Mont League and Suburban One League will determine the status of their start times on Monday—if they decide to play at all.

On August 11, Lombardi told in an exclusive interview that, “We’re trying, we’re really trying with this. It breaks my heart that people really don’t consider how important this is to young people socially, mentally, emotionally and physically.”

On Friday, the PIAA board did not clarify whether or not there would be state playoffs, which hurts schools like two-time defending PIAA 6A champion St. Joseph’s Prep, which returns a top-10 national team led by Ohio State-bound Kyle McCord and Marvin Harrison Jr. and Clemson-bound Jeremiah Trotter Jr.

It appears as if the Hawks will be playing its traditional Philadelphia Catholic League rivals—and that’s it, mixed in with some non-league games against local programs.

On the positive side, a little bit of something is better than nothing—and that seems to be the limited options high school football programs will be faced with this fall.

On Wednesday, August 19, learned through multiple sources that the Philadelphia Catholic League intended to play this season, pending the PIAA board vote.

The Catholic League Blue Division will have nine teams this season, with Neumann-Goretti, Bonner-Prendergast, Archbishop Carroll, Lansdale Catholic, Bishop McDevitt, West Catholic, Conwell-Egan, Cardinal O’Hara and new addition Archbishop Ryan (4A schools—O’Hara, Ryan and Bonner-Prendergast; 3A schools—Carroll, Neumann-Goretti and Lansdale Catholic; 2A school are Conwell-Egan, West Catholic and McDevitt).

It will be easy for the Catholic Blue, which will have an eight-game regular season.

Since the PCL went to two divisions in 2015, the Catholic League board of governors decided that the regular-season champion would be declared the league champion, without an inter-league playoff to determine a postseason league champion.

In the Catholic League Red Division, which is comprised of St. Joe’s Prep, La Salle, Roman Catholic, Father Judge and new addition Archbishop Wood, which was traditionally a 5A school, but due to the PIAA’s success formula, is now a 6A this season. The Red Division would only have a four-game schedule. The only 5A school in the Red is Judge.

Filling those schedules will be a challenge.

But the PIAA’s decree to have fall sports is a base to work from.

“For the Catholic League, it means we continue to move forward,” said B.J. Hogan, the O’Hara football coach and athletic director, Catholic League football moderator and vice-chair of the board of directors. “The biggest thing will be the district and state playoffs.

“What we may have to do is go back to the way we used to do things and have an inter-league PCL postseason to determine the Red and Blue PCL champion. The teams that have been successful at the state level, like Prep and Wood, two defending state champs, if you asked them, a state title is the most important objective.

“To me, right now, the PCL Blue Division is the most important objective. We’ve spoken about it as a league, about championships, but the bottom line is giving these kids a chance to play. We want these kids to get some tape, because they’ve been working their butts off. It would be a great thing if we could provide that.”

On August 10, the Philadelphia Public League announced that its fall sports seasons have been cancelled, with the chance of those sports, obviously including football, being played in the spring.

On August 14, the Del Val League announced plans to delay its season in a statement that said: “While the schools worked diligently to consider numerous pathways to find other alternatives to save the 2020 fall season, no satisfactory plan materialized. Our concerns for overall safety align the schools in the Del Val League with other Pennsylvania universities and colleges who have decided to make similar COVID-19 precautionary cancellation procedures.”

There are complications here for the school districts that will opt to play.

After hearing medical authorities speak publicly about the risk involved with fall sports and the COVID-19 pandemic, a looming issue could be possible legal wrangling. That could stem from a school board allowing teams to play, and if one of the players comes down with COVID-19 and gets seriously ill, there could be serious ramifications.

On Friday morning, for example, citing Wolf’s recommendation and those of the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Cheltenham School District released a statement saying that fall sports will be suspended, meaning the PIAA 5A District 1 champion Panthers will not have a chance to defend their title this fall.

Cheltenham reached the PIAA 5A state championship for the first time in school history last season, losing to six-time 5A state champion Wood in the closing seconds.

Over the last decade, programs like Wood and St. Joe’s Prep play for state titles. In 2019, Wood won its third 5A state championship in the last four seasons, and sixth state title overall (2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019)—which leads all Philadelphia-area programs.

Last season, St. Joe’s Prep won its second-straight PIAA 6A state championship and third in the last four years. The Hawks won their fifth overall state title in the last seven years (4A titles in 2013 and 2014, and 6A titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019). They were in a very good position to threepeat as PIAA 6A champions this season—with McCord, Harrison and Trotter back.

“Once this (PIAA approval) happened, everything is being turned over to the individual school boards,” said Garnet Valley coach Mike Ricci, whose teams are traditionally in contention for the District 1 6A title. “Our position the whole time is to control what we can control and use all of the social distancing guidelines.

“We’re going to go as if we’re going to play this fall. We don’t believe in speculation and we’re doing what we can with the information we have. Everyone wants the kids to play. It’s just a matter of whether we’re able to do that safely.”

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been covering high school football since 1992 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito. Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball.

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