Tom Durant (above) and West Chester East are one of a number of local programs left waiting to see if they'll get to finish their seasons. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The 2020 Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) basketball tournament is officially on hold.
Due to continually-expanding concerns over the spread of COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, officials in the PIAA announced Thursday afternoon that it was suspending the tournament for “minimally a two week period [sic],” at which point it would re-evaluate the situation.
Reached by email, a PIAA official said that the decision for teams to keep practicing rests with individual school district policies.
In a release, the PIAA said it “believes this action will allow schools time to perform self-assessments and make decisions to promote optimal health conditions in their communities.”
It added that “additional direction to competing schools will be provided over the coming days in consultation with school administrators, local,state health and governmental authorities.”
The decision comes as the teams remaining in the Class 1A, 4A and 5A state brackets were preparing to play quarterfinal games Friday night, with the Class 2A, 3A and 6A participants going Saturday.
With at least one contender from the Philadelphia area in all six brackets, there’s a lot of teams around the area that are simultaneously relieved and worried about whether or not their seasons will continue.
“I was hoping they would let us play without fans...but I guess they know more than me,” said Math, Civics & Sciences coach Lonnie Diggs, whose team is one of the favorites in the 2A bracket. “I just hope we actually get a chance to actually play it, whether it’s tomorrow, two weeks, whenever.
“I hope it doesn’t get cancelled forever,” he added. “It’s still not a guarantee.”
The PIAA’s move is only the latest in a series of moves made by amateur and professional sports teams, conferences, and leagues over the last few days as worries about and cases of the disease –– now officially labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization –– continue to spread.
The Ivy League was among the first major organizations to alter its plans, first cancelling its postseason basketball tournaments Tuesday and then suspending its entire spring sports season Wednesday. March 11 saw the NBA suspend its season after at least one Utah Jazz player tested positive, and Thursday morning Major League Soccer followed suit, while a handful of NCAA conferences –– including the Big Ten, ACC, WAC, Atlantic 10, MAC, and American Athletic Conference –– all called off their men’s basketball postseason tournaments within a 30-minute span around noon EST Thursday. It is expected that the National Hockey League will suspend its season on Thursday afternoon with Major League Baseball debating the fate of spring training and Opening Day of the regular season at some point later in the day.
As of early Thursday afternoon, the men’s Division I NCAA Tournament is still scheduled to go on, though without spectators. A Division III Sweet 16 game at Swarthmore on Saturday is also still scheduled to proceed, also in an empty building.
Several coaches CoBL spoke to weren’t thrilled about the PIAA’s postponement, but knew it was much better than the alternative of having an immediate cancellation with no hope to finish out the final three rounds.
“Some people are cancelling, some people are moderating and doing different things, or accommodating, altering the landscape, how the tournament’s being run,” Cheltenham coach Pat Fleury said. “There’s so many different parts to it, but the fact that it wasn’t closed immediately was good.”
“You expected this, just because of what’s going on in the world...you have to respect it. It’s uncharted waters, we get it,” said West Chester East head coach Tom Durant, whose team is one of the favorites for the 5A crown. “Postponement (is) acceptable, cancellation would be a real tough one because of what you put into it.”
T"he safety of students, staff, and community members will remain at the forefront of the Methacton School District, so we completely understand the reason for the decision made by the PIAA to suspend the state basketball tournament at this time," Methacton coach Jeff Derstine said in an email. "We will continue to prepare the best that we can for our quarterfinal matchup with Roman Catholic within the guidelines that we are provided with on a day-to-day basis. Our coaching staff and players will remain focused on our goal of competing for a state championship until the season is officially over.
Trouble started brewing in the state basketball tournaments on Tuesday night, when two games in the 6A bracket –– Wilson vs. Lower Merion and Mt. Lebanon vs. Cheltenham –– started to run into difficulties finding a gym willing to host their games because of its connections to a Coronavirus case. On Wednesday, Mt. Lebanon’s administration said it refused to play Cheltenham after a parent of a student there was a caregiver to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting a shutdown of the school for the remainder of this week.
Lower Merion School District also closed this week after a parent with children in multiple schools in the district as well as a staff member were potentially exposed, prompting a district-wide school cleaning.
There are no indications of any players having any connection to the Coronavirus cases.
The PIAA originally announced Wednesday afternoon that it would attempt to play those two games Thursday night at different sites, but couldn’t find a home for the LM/Wilson game, and Mt. Lebanon had not yet agreed to play Cheltenham.
It’s unclear how the PIAA would fit in those two games if the tournaments do resume at some point. The winners of the two games are bracketed to play one another in the quarterfinals.
“It’s out of our control at this point, we have our opinions and our thoughts, but at this point, whatever’s best for the totality, that’s what the decision will be made,” Fleury said. I think it’s just disappointing all around, and the families that are affected by it, you have to be empathetic, you see new cases every couple hours coming about.
“But the state tournament means a lot to a lot of different people, to all the schools in the state. It’s tough, it’s tough.”
CoBL will have more on this story as it develops
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