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BULLETIN: Aug. 7, 2020 — The Commonwealth of Hockey kicks the can down the road for two weeks

This afternoon, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the scholastic sports governing body for the nation’s most prominent field hockey state, decided to delay mandatory practices for two weeks for fall sports.

This recommendation was in response to a recommendation made yesterday by Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf that the Keystone State should follow states like Colorado, California, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia to push back all fall sports until the spring.

It’s an interesting decision given what we are seeing around the nation, with outbreaks of COVID-19 at schools and colleges that have resulted in the shutdown of sports practices as well as classes.

Now, the sentiment behind the decision is understandable. The professional athletes that have come out of the fall sports seasons in Pennsylvania are legion.

In football, you have the likes of Joe Namath, Joe Montana, and Johnny Unitas, three members of the NFL 100. In soccer, you have Chelsea megastar Christina Pulisic and World Cup winner Meghan Klingenberg. And, of course, the lion’s share of U.S. field hockey rosters over the last 30 years have been Pennsylvanians.

But is that reason enough for the PIAA to build this house out of sugar, even as the drip, drip, drip of Coronavirus threatens to melt the house at any moment?

BULLETIN: Aug. 6, 2020 — The Commonwealth of Field Hockey is on a knife edge

Today, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf announced a recommendation that no high school sports take place before the start of 2021. The recommendation came during a noon news conference.

The recommendation came in the name of trying to limit congregate settings. “That,” Wolf said, “means anything that brings people together is going to help that virus get us. We ought to do everything we can to defeat that virus.”

The Coronavirus, as we mentioned this morning, has already disrupted preseason activites at the University of Louisville, as well as some schools which started up in the deep South — one of which was your Founder’s old elementary school.

After the new conference, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state’s governing body for high-school sports, had a teleconference with members of the governor’s staff, and, according to PIAA administrator and current U.S. Masters field hockey team member Melissa Mertz, the recommendation remained in place after the meeting.

This afternoon, after an executive session, the PIAA responded with a short statement saying that a response will be forthcoming tomorrow afternoon.

For a commonwealth which has sent generations of football, football, field hockey, and soccer players to the next level, the loss of a PIAA fall sports season would be an enormous event.

While the PIAA’s board seems ready to make a go of it, I do wonder if the plan will eventually send these sports to the late winter/early spring, like in Virginia.

BULLETIN: Aug. 6, 2020 — The WPLL folds in favor of an as-yet unproven model

Today, it was confirmed that the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League, the second attempt at a professional league, was ceasing operations.

“The decision to close down the WPLL was a difficult one, but in order to give these exceptionally talented women what they deserve we had to find investors and sponsors that could fully support the league financially,” league founder DeJuliis tells Inside Lacrosse. “The WPLL was a great foundation and launched our sport into the national conversation in regard to professional sports. We are proud of what has already been accomplished and excited for all that’s ahead.” 

Pro women’s lacrosse, after the shutting of the WPLL door because of COVID-19, is looking out a very uncertain window. DeJuliis is in talks with an organization called Athletes Unlimited, an organization which is player-focused when it it comes to how players are paid and marketed.

You may remember Athletes Unlimited from the scandal surrounding the Scrap Yard Dawgs softball team, whose players walked out of the locker room after a Twitter message from the team’s general manager tweeted a photo of players standing along the baselines for the national anthem and tagging President Trump.

The reason you may remember it is because the seven-game series between the Dawgs and the USSSA Pride was to have been an attempt to reboot the Women’s Professional Fastpitch league during this unprecedented summer. That’s because a lot of players on other league rosters have jumped ship to Athletes Unlimited.

Amongst the people already backing the new venture are softball legends Cat Osterman and Jessica Mendoza, and NBA star Kevin Durant.

Now, the talks between the WPLL and UA come before a single pitch has been thrown in UA’s inaugural softball season, which is scheduled to start in Rosemont, Ill. on Aug. 30th.

The UA effort is expected to try to also start a volleyball league, something which has been attempted on numerous occasions since 1975 with a co-ed league featuring, of all people, Wilt Chamberlain.

Now, we don’t know whether UA will have the funding and will to take on a pro women’s lacrosse circuit, especially with the proposed Olympic rules coming down the pike in 2028.

Also will the league be a 6-on-6 version, or the hybrid and physical 11-on 11 version that featured tremendous pros like Taylor Cummings, Kara Mupo, and Dana Dobbie?

Like many issues in women’s athletics this year, we’re left with more questions than answers. I hope the women will have a chance to get more pro playing opportunities going forward.

Aug. 6, 2020 — The pandemic of the now

Last evening, the University of Louisville announced the stoppage of team activities for four fall sports: men’s soccer, field hockey, women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.

The precipitating incident was an off-campus party on Aug. 1, which gave a number of student-athletes some flu-like symptoms. Through contact tracing, a total of 29 student athletes tested positive for Coronavirus.

“It goes without saying that I’m incredibly disappointed and frustrated today with what’s occurred,” said Louisville athletic director Vince Tyra in a teleconference yesterday. “We’ve noted from the very beginning that we have a strong commitment from our medical and administrative staff in the athletic department that we expect to be met with the same commitment from our student athletes. Unfortunately, we’ve had a failure in the recent week to do so.”

It’s a frightening development. It’s not because of the usual kind of devil-may-care attitude amongst the usual college-age demographic, but it’s because that attitude has not been curtailed or mitigated during this worldwide pandemic.

The best-laid Coronavirus plans, in many segments of our society, have been shot down by normal human behavior, whether it is a women’s soccer team attending an Orlando bar, a Georgia second-grader infecting entire school classrooms, or an off-campus party in Kentucky.

There is, literally, so much at stake for Division I collegiate athletics with the worldwide pandemic, particularly because Louisville is one of the 130 schools eligible for the lucrative billion-dollar College Football Playoff system.

Believe me, the other 129 schools are going to take a look at this situation very carefully, for the safety and well-being of the student athletes in all sports as well as their families and the rest of the student body.

BULLETIN: Aug. 5, 2020 — And Division II follows suit

This evening, the Council of Presidents for NCAA Division II institutions made the same announcement that the Division III Council did this afternoon. Fall championships for these schools, and the two dozen or so who offer field hockey, will not be happening.

“After reviewing and discussing the Board of Governors’ directives, the Division II Presidents Council made the difficult decision that holding fall championships in any capacity was not a viable or fiscally responsible option for Division II,” council president Sandra Jordan said in a statement. “This decision was discussed very thoroughly, and I assure you, it was not made lightly. It is important to note that fall student-athletes will be given eligibility-related flexibility to allow them championship opportunities in the future.”

As we mentioned earlier today, Division II field hockey competition was significantly watered down with the two major conferences in the sport having opted out of playing this fall.

So, with the opting out of Canada Interuniversity Sport, the National Junior College Athletic Association, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and NCAA Division II and III, the only governing body of college sports planning in North America to make a go of it in the face of nearly five million confirmed cases is NCAA Division I.

Division I, however, has two significant and moneyed subsets. The Football Bowl Subdivision and the Power Five conferences have a lot of say as to what goes on at the top levels of college sports.

But let’s see what the say is. We may get an indicator as early as tomorrow.

BULLETIN: Aug. 5, 2020 — Another incremental pinhole in the bubble

This afternoon, the Council of Presidents for NCAA Division III, the most populous division in the major governing body for college sports in the United States (443), decided to cancel all fall sports championships, including field hockey.

“Looking at the health and safety challenges we face this fall during this unprecedented time, we had to make this tough decision to cancel championships for fall sports this academic year in the best interest of our student-athlete and member institutions,” chair Tori Murden McClure said in a written statement. “Our Championships Committee reviewed the financial and logistical ramifications if Division III fall sports championships were conducted in the spring and found it was logistically untenable and financially prohibitive.”

The Division III championship field would have been substantially enervated, as a number of conferences followed the lead of Bowdoin College, the first school to put a stop to fall sports way back on June 22 — six weeks ago. Since then, many of the 158 field hockey-playing schools have seen either delays or outright cancellations, either initiated from the campus or the conference levels.

This leaves many questions. For example, we don’t know exactly how many Division III colleges will engage in competition this season, since the statement only covers championship events.

We also don’t know whether Division II will follow Division III’s lead. But it is likely; think of field hockey, as the two major Division II conferences — the PSAC and Northeast-10 — suspended all athletic competition for at least the fall. That leaves 12 other teams adrift.

And, of course, we also don’t know when or if Division I will make some sort of call in the near future.

Stay tuned.

Aug. 3, 2020 — Three neighboring states teetering on the edge

Combined, the states of Ohio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania have about 500 of the 1,950 high school field hockey programs in America.

Today, all three are in serious doubt about whether they will be able to play their seasons, despite statewide “return to play” initiatives which have been rolled out for school districts.

Maryland was the latest state to opt out of playing today, as the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) followed the lead of the state’s most populous school district and postponed both fall semester sports and winter sports through the first semester of the public school year.

Meanwhile, Ohio schools have been getting mixed signals. Currently, an order from the Ohio Department of Health has allowed preseason in many sports and the start of play in non-contact sports like golf and tennis to take place in as little as 10 days from now. However, the state’s governor, Mike DeWine, may have the final say in the matter in a decision which could override what the Department of Health said.

Similarly, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf will have the final say as to whether scholastic sports will take place in the commonwealth, and remarks at a news conference this afternoon with state health secretary Rachel Levine paint a bleak picture.

“I’m not sure we’ve figured out exactly how we can do this, but what happens in schools should be consistent with what happens on the playing fields,” he said to the assembled media. “In other words, if the school is going completely virtual, it seems hard to justify having in-person contact sports being played in the fall. If the school is going to be open and feels it’s safe — if teachers, administrators parents feel it’s safe to reopen — that’s a different proposition for contact sports.”

In a couple of days, Wolf is set to clarify proposed rules banning spectators from scholastic sports this fall, and could very well either set guidelines for non-contact sports or cancel fall competition altogether.

It isn’t looking good, folks.

Aug. 2, 2020 — Is the NCAA in a meltdown?

This dropped today from Sports Illustrated. It’s an uncomfortable read, but it may explain what could very well happen in the next month.

July 31, 2020 — Push and pull in Pennsylvania

One of the U.S. states that has pushed for the opening of high-school sports in the fall is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, a very prominent body in field hockey, football, wrestling, and basketball, rolled out three models on Wednesday to try to help with the rollout of sports in thousands of schools in the Commonwealth’s 67 counties and 12 districts.

But today, there was word of some pushback. The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference decided to delay the start of football, soccer, and field hockey. The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, which has 150 schools, is delaying the start of football until Sept. 10th.

And one school district, Norristown (Pa.), decided to suspend fall sports altogether.

“We recognize the angst this will bring for our student athletes, coaches, and gameday staff, but it is the health and safety of those groups and their families that are paramount to the district,” said a District press release. “If we cannot guarantee a safe return to the classroom, we cannot guarantee a safe return to the playing field, course, sidelines, court or locker rooms.”

Norristown is a prominent sports town located just off the Blue Route west of Philadelphia. Its former residents include tennis player Lisa Raymond, Naismith Hall-of-Famer Geno Auriemma, football quarterback Steve Bono, and former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.

It’s for this reason that I think Norristown’s decision will make a substantial ripple in future PIAA decisionmaking.

July 30, 2020 — Heading towards uncertainty

There are some state governing bodies which have been putting in place aggressive “return to play” plans for the return of scholastic sports, even as there are a number of large school districts around the nation choosing all-virtual learning instead of returning to the school buildings.

It’s a disconnect which has led to some governing bodies, such as New Jersey, Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania pushing back the start of preseason.

I fear for the health and welfare of students involved in sports where “social distancing” is not possible. Unlike the recent NWSL and MLS seasons (held in “bubbles” where players are tested routinely and control of entry and exit are strictly controlled), the scholastic season this fall will involve open access by players and support personnel who go home every day to their families, and go out in the general public to, say, buy groceries.

The risks are enormous.

And I think they’re being underestimated.