The PIAA is planning for a return to a full spring sports postseason, with hopes of seeing close to 5,000 spectators for the track and field championships.
In the wake of fall and winter tournaments that were truncated to accommodate COVID-19 mitigation efforts, and a year after seeing the entire spring sports schedule shelved, it’s full speed ahead for the state’s high school athletics governing body.
“We’d like to do everything we can to get a full complement of qualifiers and bracketing for the spring,” said PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi Wednesday, when the PIAA Board of Directors met.
The biggest change comes in track and field, where the two-day event will be split into a pair of one-day competitions: Class 2A on Friday and Class 3A on Saturday, both at Shippensburg University.
The schedule will be slightly truncated, with heats run only in sprint events, but the number of qualifiers will not change from past years.
The PIAA estimates that about 1,300 boys and girls will compete each day; each qualifier will receive vouchers for two tickets.
Lombardi said the hope is to stay under 5,000 people total each day, a figure that includes athletes, coaches, support personnel and spectators.
“We feel that number is manageable,” Lombardi said. “We believe that we can handle that with the number of rooms that Shippensburg is going to provide us.”
As for baseball, lacrosse, softball, tennis and volleyball, the hope is that full brackets will used, with 16 teams or individuals qualifying in each. In basketball, for example, only district champions advanced.
The plan for a full return is dependent upon mid-state schools offering to host events between east and west teams. Some may not be willing to host due to COVID concerns.
“That’s gonna be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Lombardi said.
The PIAA will continue to explore that issue.
A motion from the basketball steering committee to alter the PIAA tournament schedule by starting it on a Tuesday, rather than Friday as in the past, was tabled until the summer.
The plan calls for opening-round games to be played on Tuesday, March 8, or Wednesday, March 9. That would allow semifinals to be played on the weekend. The championship games will be played Thursday through Saturday, March 24-26.
Jennifer Grassel, PIAA assistant executive director, said the plan would allow teams in the semifinals — which often require extended travel due to east/west matchups — to play on the weekend, rather than on school nights. Also, it would give schools that win in the semifinal round more time to organize logistics and sell tickets prior to the championship game.
“The quick turnaround can be problematic,” Grassel said, noting schools might win a semifinal on a Monday and play a championship game on a Thursday.
Under the proposed plan, some teams could have as much as a week between the semifinal and final.
“Having that week builds up the excitement heading into that weekend,” Grassel said.