YOUNGSTOWN — A second regional NCAA Division III college conference has postponed fall sports while local officials are starting to weigh in on the safety of high school sports resuming next week as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The Presidents' Athletic Conference, which includes nearby Grove City, Westminster and Thiel, announced Friday that fall sports that are medium- and high-contact (football, volleyball, soccer and cross country) have been postponed until spring.
Golf and women's tennis tentatively will be played. No PAC winter sport will be played before Jan. 1.
The PAC decision came on the same day that another Division III conference, the Ohio Athletic Conference, postponed fall sports. Mount Union and Baldwin-Wallace are nearby OAC members.
"We wrestled long and hard before deciding to postpone competition in the high- and medium-contact sports of football, soccer, volleyball and cross country this fall, a difficult disruption for our student-athletes and coaches,” said Dr. Calvin Troup, president of Geneva College and chair of the PAC Presidents’ Council in a news release. “That said, we remain hopeful that conditions will permit us to include these sports safely in an expanded PAC athletic schedule this coming spring.”
The PAC decision was influenced by the NCAA Sport Science Institute (SSI) releasing updated health and safety/resocialization guidelines on July 16 related to COVID-19, which classified football, soccer and volleyball as “high contact” sports.
The SSI document recommends that all “high contact” sports should have all student-athletes tested on a weekly basis for COVID-19 when social distancing is not possible (during competitions), including within 72 hours after each football game for all student-athletes, coaches, officials and staff.
As a “medium contact” sport, guidelines for cross country competition include initial testing of all student-athletes followed by maintenance testing bi-weekly throughout the season.
“I cannot stress this point enough: this is a postponement of certain fall sports competitions," PAC Commissioner Joe Onderko said. "Our Presidents' Council has indicated every intention of having our schools play football, soccer, volleyball and cross country league schedules to the greatest degree possible during the spring 2021 semester, with a continued highest priority on student-athlete health and safety.
“We remain extremely hopeful that improved, more available and more cost-effective testing procedures for COVID-19, if not an outright vaccine, will make spring competitions in these high-impact sports a much more viable option than in the fall," Onderko said. "Moving all winter sports competitions until after Jan. 1 also gives us a greater degree of confidence in both starting and finishing those seasons,."
Bethany, Saint Vincent, Geneva and Waynesburg also are PAC members.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Sports Athletic Conference, a NCAA Division II conference that includes Slippery Rock, canceled fall sports.
At the high school level, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has not announced recommendations for schools reopening next month. That decision will have a big impact on varsity sports. In mid-March, Ohio closed all schools and shut down all winter and spring sports.
On Aug. 1, the Ohio High School Athletic Association allows practice for fall sports to begin, unless Ohio rules otherwise.
Some school and health officials are ready to move on. On Friday, Eric Gordon, the CEO for Cleveland Metropolitan School District, said the members of the Senate Athletic League will not compete in fall sports because those schools will have remote learning for the first nine weeks.
In a video posted on the district's website and Cleveland.com, Gordon said, “If it’s not safe to be in school, it’s not safe to be on the playing fields either.
“I know that’s a heartbreak for our young people,” Gordon said.
Youngstown City Schools will begin the 2020-21 school year with remote learning but the district has not announced any restrictions for sports.
To the west, Summit County Public Health officials are recommending that schools delay high school sports competitions until Oct. 1. If enacted, those schools would miss the first six weeks of the football season.
Summit has 27 high schools including Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Stow-Munroe Falls, Hoban, Barberton, Mogadore, Tallmadge and Hudson.
Ohio has reported more than 1,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases for 18 consecutive days.
On Monday, the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which includes Youngstown State University, is expected to make an announcement about fall competition. YSU's football season is scheduled to begin on Sept. 5 at Akron.
The Horizon League, which includes all other YSU fall sports, already has canceled non-conference competition.
The Big Ten Conference, which includes Ohio State University, has canceled all non-conference competition this fall.