The PIAA is pushing forward.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), a governing body for high school athletics throughout the state, and its board of directors passed “Return to Competition” guidelines by a 29-3 margin during its meeting held virtually on Wednesday. While the PIAA approved fall sports to begin as scheduled, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has the ability to alter or cancel the season because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Directors passed a 25-page packet on Wednesday outlining general and sport-specific coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines for fall sports. The packet is posted at piaa.org and was also shared on the organization’s Twitter account (at)PIAASports.

“The PIAA is committed to maximizing the athletic opportunities for students across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the organization announced in a release. “In addressing the COVID-19 crisis and how it has affected the 67 counties differently, PIAA understands the flexibility needed by school districts to make localized measured decisions rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach in addressing interscholastic athletics.”

The PIAA offered flexibility to its schools, leagues and conferences, offering to begin play on varying dates, as schools can start fall sports later than the official start date if they so choose.

“As we continue to move forward, the PIAA will remain flexible in considering that certain sports may be impacted differently and post-season play may need to be modified,” the release stated.

The first date for heat acclimatization is listed for Monday, Aug. 10, and the first practice date for fall sports is slated for a week later on Monday, Aug. 17. Week Zero football games are scheduled to begin on Aug. 28.

The first play date for golf is listed as Thursday, Aug. 20, and the first date for girls’ tennis is Monday, Aug. 24. The first date for remaining fall sports — cross-country, girls’ volleyball, field hockey, soccer — is listed as Friday, Sept. 4.

The PIAA also listed an alternate start date.

The first date for heat acclimatization will be no earlier than Monday, Aug. 10, and the first practice date is no earlier than Monday, Aug. 17. In the alternate start, each sport must have a minimum length of preseason completed — three weeks is the minimum except golf (three days) and tennis (one week) — before competition is permitted.

The first contest date in this instance would be Sept. 18 for football and Monday, Sept. 14 for golf, girls’ tennis, cross-country, girls’ volleyball, field hockey and soccer.

As part of an alternative schedule, competition for fall sports will begin no later than Monday, Oct. 5, but it may be later with a request to the respective district committee. Any combination of the established start dates, or the alternative schedule must comply with established pre-season practice guidelines and may be utilized to accommodate the needs of each local school, community and sport. Those alternative plans can vary from sport to sport.

The PIAA Board of Directors will meet again on Aug. 26 prior to the start of fall contests to monitor schools’ preseason participation and any issues that may arise from the start of the fall sports season.

Part of the PIAA guidelines for the start of fall sports currently is that there will be no spectators allowed at any games. Athletes aren’t required to wear face coverings while competition, but must while on the sidelines. Regular recent sanitation, cleaning and disinfectant measures will be followed, according to the PIAA guidelines, while high fives and general hand contact is discouraged, in addition to the sharing of equipment.

Schools scheduled to play one another must report to their opponent, in a reasonable time frame, any case of COVID-19 within their team members and coaching staff. Teams must also shut down for 14 days when it has a case of COVID-19.

District committees may consider a game canceled because of COVID-19 as a non-game rather than a forfeit. A school that decides not to play in a scheduled playoff game because of COVID-19 concerns forfeits any possibility of advancing into the next round.

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