YOUNGSTOWN — Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Pro Football Hall of Fame had planned a massive ceremony in Canton this weekend to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Football League.
How much football will be celebrated over the next few weeks remains a big mystery. Events from the past 72 hours suggest there may not be much — at least in the near future.
On Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf issued a recommendation that there should be no Pennsylvania high school or recreational sports before Jan. 1.
A day later, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association which oversees high school sports in the Keystone state tabled a decision for two weeks.
Also Friday, the Missouri Valley Football Conference announced that its fall season is being postponed in favor of an eight-game season in the spring with the expectation to culminate the season with the FCS Playoffs. Youngstown State is a member of the MVFC.
"Without question, the most important part of our decision-making process was listening to our student-athletes and hearing their feelings," said Jim Tressel, Youngstown State University president and chair of the MVFC Presidents Council in a statement posted on the YSU athletics website. "What we clearly heard was that they want to play this year for a chance to participate in the FCS Playoffs.
"It's great to know that they believe we are taking all the steps necessary to keep them safe in the process," said Tressel of the pandemic.
The MVFC Council also voted that competition this fall can be conducted at institutional discretion. YSU has three non-conference games on the fall schedule: at Akron on Sept. 5; Duquesne at home on Sept 12; and Eastern Kentucky at home on Sept. 19.
YSU's plan to play them was jolted on Saturday after the Mid-American Conference (MAC) which includes Akron and Kent State became the first NCAA Division I conference to cancel fall sports. Many Division II and III conferences already have decided it's not safe to conduct sports this fall because of the pandemic.
The MAC fall sports affected are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s soccer, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball. No decision has been made regarding winter sports.
“The decision is grounded in the core values of the Conference that prioritize student-athlete well-being, an area the MAC has traditionally taken a leadership role,” said MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher in a news release. “Clearly, we are charting a conservative path — and it is one that has been recommended by our medical advisory group.
"I am heartbroken we are in this place."
Ron Strollo, YSU's Athletic Director, told WFMJ Channel 21 on Saturday that the Penguins, for now, intend to play the two remaining non-conference games. However, Duquesne is a member of the Northeast Athletic Conference which on July 29 postponed fall conference play. Duquesne has not announced a decision on playing non-conference games.
Despite the pandemic, guess who's ready for some football? The Ohio High School Athletic Association, which on Friday announced a radical revised plan that includes a six-game regular season and an extremely expanded playoff season that includes every team that wants to participate.
Normally, the OHSAA postseason only has the top eight teams in each of four regions per seven divisions.
The OHSAA plan is contingent on Gov. Mike DeWine signing off on restoring contact sports in Ohio by Aug. 21.
For weeks, DeWine has been saying a decision on high school sports as well as schools reopening is coming. But on July 28 at one of DeWine's bi-weekly news conferences, the governor said there is "not enough data" available to decide if it's safe to reopen schools. On Friday, DeWine promised an announcement was planned for this week. His state updates are scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday at 2 p.m.
For now, DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted have no problem with athletes in contact sports (football and soccer) practicing. On July 31, the OHSAA announced a plan for fall sports to go forward that allows practices that began on Aug. 1 but forbids scrimmages.
In announcing the shortened football season, the OHSAA said it was following a guideline from DeWine's office to end the season before an anticipated spike of coronavirus cases in early winter. Normally, football's state championships are played the first weekend in December.
In the new OHSAA plan, Ohio's playoffs would begin on Oct. 9, the seventh week of the traditional 10-game season. The state championship games must be completed by Nov. 21.
The OHSAA plan would drop the traditional computer ratings in favor of a coaches' tournament seed meeting on Sept. 28. That format is what other OHSAA sports use.
The OHSAA plan allows schools to skip the football playoffs in favor of a 10-game regular season that must be completed by Nov. 14.
The plan also allows eliminated tournament teams to schedule more regular-season games as long as they are played by Nov. 14.
Schools must commit to the playoffs by Sept. 17 and can withdraw by Sept. 24 with no penalty.
Across the state, many schools already have put a hold on sports because they will employ remote learning to start the school year. The OHSAA says those schools can still compete in the tournament.
“To both ensure we can offer students the opportunity to participate in education-based athletes but do so with their best interests in mind, we believe this modified plan offers a positive solution by addressing many of the concerns of our member schools,” said Jeff Cassella, president of the OHSAA Board of Directors, on the OHSAA website. “Those that are able to start their seasons on time will be able to do so.
"Those that are starting later can still have a season," he said. "Add in the option of all schools entering the playoffs and the possibility of schools still being able to play 10 regular-season contests, and this plan is helpful to virtually all of our schools.”
Also benefitting would be the OHSAA which receives the revenue from postseason ticket sales. The OHSAA's bottom line was greatly impacted by the cancellation of the winter and spring sports state tournaments.
The pandemic already has affected Mahoning Valley athletes training for fall seasons. Positive COVID-19 tests have resulted in sports pauses for Poland, East, Chaney, Lowellville, Champion and McDonald. Poland and Champion athletes have resumed training.