It’s been anything but a typical summer for our area’s athletes, coaches and athletic directors.
With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, teams had been unable to conduct any offseason workouts up until recent weeks, and now, some that had been conducting those workouts — Port Allegany and Cameron County, so far — have canceled their offseason programming due to new guidance from the Department of Health on Thursday evening.
As Bradford athletic director Mike Erickson told my colleague, Anthony Sambrotto, earlier this week, the situation is “fluid” and things could change at any point as guidance from the CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health continue to be released.
With that said, here are the current questions we’re looking at as July gets rolling:
Which fall sports will or will not take place?
It’s been the elephant in the room this entire time, but some sports involve more social distancing than others.
Sports like golf and tennis are likely fine as we move forward, but what of football and soccer, where athletes are coming into close (and in some cases, forcible) contact?
Thus far, guidance from the state hasn’t specifically declared which sports should/should not be played or practiced, but does advise for as much social distancing as possible.
In theory, while football and soccer haven’t been nixed for this fall, are schools going to be willing to take the risks involved with having those sports while the pandemic is ongoing?
The answer to that leads us to the next question…
Will sports get moved around if they can’t take place this fall?
We’re beginning to see some states, such as Michigan, consider moving football to the spring in an effort to give a vaccine as much time as possible to roll out before full contact sports begin.
Could the PIAA opt to do the same? So far, the only public talk by the organization about that was a firm “no” back in late May.
But that was well before the clock was truly ticking on contact sports for the upcoming school year. Simply put, the PIAA is running out of time to make any big decisions like that, because preseason practices are only a few weeks away now.
It certainly wouldn’t be easy, as scheduling is done months in advance. But with the fall season rapidly approaching, perhaps a proactive approach is the PIAA’s best bet if some sports can’t reasonably be played this fall.
If large team sports go on, what about busing?
If social distance is recommended, then bus trips pose an interesting debate, because there isn’t a ton of personal space on those as teams hit the road.
Problem is, how else do schools ferry their teams around to other schools for competitions?
There are other ways to get athletes to games, of course, but none with as much coach-to-player supervision as a school bus.
Will schools still use buses, and if they do, will masks be required for those riding along?
What if an athlete tests positive for COVID-19?
This one is a doozie, and it was one of the driving factors in the cancellation of the Big 30 Charities Classic.
Getting athletes back together just for intrasquad workouts poses some risk, but once schools are facing each other on the fields of play again, that risk increases greatly.
What is the contingency plan for schools or, in fact, entire Districts, if an athlete or coach tests positive during the season?
Right now, the general consensus between schools’ guidelines is that facilities and equipment will have to be disinfected before they can reopen after a positive case. That works while schools are just hosting athletes for small group workouts, but what happens if a student-athlete or coach tests positive in the days following an event with another team once sports resume?
What about fans?
On one hand, we’ve seen places like Bradford Speedway draw in huge crowds this summer. On the other, the Charities Classic was canceled in part due to the fact that fans wouldn’t have been able to attend, or at least not in large numbers.
The only guidance from the state for counties in the green phase — which includes every county within the Big 30 region of Pennsylvania — is that gatherings are limited to 250 people or less.
However, it seems rather unlikely that local athletic departments will opt for large crowds until there’s a vaccine. If they do allow fans in, it would seem probable that restrictions on crowd sizes and spacing in bleachers would be instituted.
Still, nothing has been officially decided on that other than the 250 occupancy limit, so it remains up in the air.
THERE ARE, of course, more questions than these that our local athletic directors are facing ahead of the newest school year, and even these questions are likely contingent on schools being able to open for in-person instruction in the first place.
And with all that said, we face an uncertain road ahead.
(Joel Whetzel, a Bradford Era sportswriter, can be reached at email@example.com.)