For the second time in as many weeks the local high school football schedule will be one game short of full.
The West Greene at California game, a key contest between 1-0 teams that could go a long way in deciding the Class A Tri-County South Conference championship, was scheduled to be played Friday night but has been postponed because of a COVID-19 situation at West Greene.
The game has not yet been rescheduled and it’s unclear whether it will be played.
“It is postponed because of a COVID-19-related situation at the West Greene end,” Pioneers athletic director Bill Simms confirmed. “All of this is precautionary and has nothing to do with the athletic teams. There has been a confirmed case in the school and we are taking precautionary measures. There is no exposure to our teams that we know of, but if we are going to go with virtual instruction, which we are, then there will be no athletic competitions.”
The football season began last Friday for WPIAL teams but one local game, the Class 5A Allegheny Six Conference contest between South Fayette and Peters Township, was postponed because of COVID-19 situations at PT. South Fayette was able to make a late addition to its schedule, finding a game last Friday at Dover (Ohio).
South Fayette and Peters Township were able to reschedule their conference game for Sept. 25 because each school had a nonconference opponent scheduled on that date. California and West Greene are finding it much more difficult to reschedule because Tri-County South Conference teams have conference games scheduled each week of the season.
Adding to the difficulty for California athletic director Ray Huffman is the PIAA rule that requires football teams to have a minimum of five days between games.
“With five days, how are you supposed to make it work?” Huffman asked. “It’s impossible. The rules they put on you … to make it work you would have to reschedule the entire conference.”
Simms said that West Greene’s girls volleyball and cross country teams also will not be competing while the school is shut down.
Players were pumped. Coaches were stoked. Fans seemed relieved. Even the president was pleased.
The Big Ten is going to give fall football a shot after all.
Less than five weeks after pushing fall sports to spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the conference ran a reverse Wednesday and said it plans to open its football season the weekend of Oct. 23-24.
“Let’s goooooo!!!” Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields tweeted.
Amid the celebration, a word of caution: This is still not going to be easy.
“We can’t emphasize enough that what we’re putting forward still requires prevention, requires accountability from everyone involved from our student-athletes to coaches to staff to be doing the things to prevent getting this infection,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, the team physician for Ohio State. “And our progress will be measured by their efforts but also we hope by the efforts to provide a clean competition and practice environment.”
All 14 teams will be scheduled to play eight regular-season games in eight weeks, plus have the opportunity to play a ninth game on Dec. 19 when the conference championship game is played. The College Football Playoff selections are scheduled for Dec. 20, which means the Big Ten’s best should be back in the hunt for a national championship – if all goes well.
If it does not, the schedule does not provide much room to adapt. Other conferences built in bye weeks, which allows time to deal with potential disruptions. The Big Ten itself did that back in early August, but now must go forward with a condensed schedule and signs that things could go awry.
Across major college football since Aug. 26, 13 games have been postponed because of teams dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks. Some have not been rescheduled.
The Big Ten is banking on daily testing to mitigate the risk of outbreaks and decrease the probability that a few positive tests will gut rosters when contact tracing sends players into 14-day quarantines. The Big Ten will begin daily antigen testing of all fall sports athletes, coaches and staff Sept. 30.
The Big Ten is taking an especially cautious approach with those who do test positive: The earliest an athlete will be able to return to game competition is 21 days after a positive diagnosis, and following a cardiac evaluation and clearance from a cardiologist.
“We’re in a better place, regardless of how we got here or how painful it was during the time we waited to get this moment,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. “That’s all behind us. What’s beautiful is that we have a process and protocols in place that’s based on science and based on lessons learned since Aug. 11.”
The Big Ten said its Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously to restart sports. The vote last month was 11-3 to postpone, with Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska voting against.
Still, the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania, won’t be packed with 100,000 fans as is usually the case in the fall. Not even close. Tickets will not be sold to the general public for Big Ten games, though some attendance is expected.
That’s still an 80,000-seat stadium that we don’t have,” said Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who had estimated the loss of football would cost the school $100 million.
The decision to play came after sharp pressure from coaches, players, parents and even President Donald Trump, all of them pushing for a Big Ten football season. The conference is home to a number of battleground states in the November election, and Trump swifly applauded the move.
Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, chairman of the presidents’ council, said the turning point for him on giving the green light to football – even though many students have not been allowed back on his school’s Evanston, Illinois, campus – didn’t come until this past weekend.
“For me, it wasn’t about political pressure, money or lawsuits,” Schapiro said. “It was about the unanimous opinion of our experts. It evolved over the course of weeks.”
The Big Ten will take a bow, but the conference has been battered for a month and businesses in college towns from Nebraska to Maryland have lost millions in sales. First-year Commissioner Kevin Warren was the main target, criticized for a lack of communication and not providing enough information to back the initial decision.
“We have passionate athletes. We have passionate families and we have passionate fans,” Warren said of the blowback. “And so I take that from a positive standpoint.”
The Big Ten postponed fall sports just six days after unveiling a modified, conference-only schedule that was set to begin Labor Day weekend, and indicated it would try to make up the season in the spring. But there was no plan in place and the reaction included criticisim from the president.
“I called the commissioner a couple of weeks ago and we started really putting a lot of pressure on, frankly,” Trump recalled Wednesday. “There was no reason for it not to come back.”
Trump also took aim at the lone Power Five conference not yet scheduled to play: “There is no reason why the Pac-12 shouldn’t be playing now.”
The Pac-12 followed the Big Ten in postponing play last month, but was far more detailed in its explanation and has more hurdles to clear. Half the Pac-12 schools are still operating under statewide restrictions that make it impossible for teams to even practice. The Pac-12 CEO Group is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the conference’s options.
As the Big Ten and Pac-12 bailed in August, the other Power Five conferences forged ahead, along with three other major college football leagues. Games have started, with the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference kicking off last week. The Southeastern Conference begins play Sept. 26.
Alvarez said Big Ten teams can begin practicing immediately.
“They never lost faith. They never lost trust. Their behavior through this time has been excellent, and they never stopped fighting,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day, whose team was ranked No. 2 in the preseason Top 25.
The new schedule comes with a twist. On championship Saturday, the plan is to provide each team an additional game, matching teams by their places in the division standings: No. 2 vs. No. 2, No. 3 vs. No. 3 and so on. Alvarez said those matchups could be tweaked to avoid rematches.
For now, the third Big Ten schedule of the year should be ready in about a week. Surely, it will rekindle excitement, but how much of it gets played is still uncertain.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said she supports the Big Ten’s decision but noted COVID-19 “is still a very real threat.”
“We’re all trying to do what we can to engage in some normalcy and keep people safe,” she said. “There’s not a perfect way to do this.”
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers stressed the need for unity as the team weighed how to properly promote social justice.
It didn’t quite work out that way during their season-opening win over the New York Giants, and left tackle Alejandro Villaneuva finds himself again in the middle of a difficult conversation about self-expression on a volatile subject.
Three years ago Villaneuva – a graduate of West Point and a decorated U.S. Army veteran – found himself standing alone with his hand over his heart as the national anthem played while his teammates remained out of sight in a nearby tunnel. On Monday night, while the rest of his teammates honored Antwon Rose Jr., a Black Pittsburgh teenager shot in the back and killed by a white police officer in 2018 by emblazoning his name on a white strip on the back of their helmets, Villanueva instead chose to honor Alwyn Cashe, a Black soldier who died from injuries sustained in Iraq in 2005.
While Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Villanueva approached him about the decision before the game, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defensive tackle Cam Heyward – both captains – admitted they were caught off guard.
“I did not know about Al’s choice for the back of his helmet,” Roethlisberger said. “Obviously, it’s his choice. That’s the amazing thing about the country we live in. Unfortunately, it is what it is.”
Tomlin has encouraged his players to speak out and take action if they do so respectfully, guidelines Tomlin believes Villanueva’s decision did not violate.
“We are going to support our players in however they choose to participate and express themselves or to not participate or not express themselves, as long as they do so thoughtfully and with class,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “And so that is a blanket approach that we have had. I think it needs no further explanation in terms of our support for Al Villanueva or anyone else in terms of what they do or do not do in terms of social justice.”
Rose died in June, 2018 after being shot in the back, arm and side of the face by East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld. Rose had been riding in an unlicensed taxi that had been involved in a drive-by shooting minutes earlier when Rosfeld pulled the car over and shot the 17-year-old as he ran away. Rosfeld was charged with homicide but acquitted in March 2019.
Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, took issue with Villanueva’s decision.
“Let me very very very clear,” Kennedy wrote in a Facebook post. “The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously one person didn’t like the results so they chose to do something different. I have nothing against vets and absolutely appreciate everything that they have done and continue to do for us. But this one person showed us exactly who he is and obviously he didn’t approve of how the vote turned out.”
Villanueva has not spoken to the media since the end of the 2019 regular season. Heyward admitted he was “surprised” by Villanueva’s choice but said he would not attempt to explain Villanueva’s actions for him.
The 31-year-old Villanueva is a two-time Pro Bowler who took an unlikely path to the NFL. He served three tours in Afghanistan before joining the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad, eventually making his way to Pittsburgh and a starting job. In 2017 he found himself as an unlikely touchstone on the debate over the merits of protesting during the national anthem when he stood on turf at Soldier Field with his hand over his heart while his teammates remained out of sight.
Villanueva called the optics of that chaotic afternoon a miscommunication. That wasn’t the case this time. Villanueva wrote Cashe’s name down in black marker on the white tape he used to cover the bottom of his helmet. Cashe was on patrol in Samarra, Iraq in 2005 when the vehicle he was traveling in struck an improvised explosive device. Cashe sustained severe burns but helped six soldiers inside the vehicle escape safely. He died on Nov. 8, 2005 in Texas and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
No member of the Steelers’ organization hinted at any problem with Villanueva’s right to honor Cashe. Heyward hopes that Kenney understands the team remains committed to making a difference not just with high-profile displays on the field, but by their actions off it.
“We chose this first game to represent her son and ... we chose to support her son and if she wants to make the community closer, that’s what we’ve got to do,” Heyward said. “Was it perfect at the end of the day? No. But as a collective unit we wanted to support her and her family.”
Villanueva (illness), RG David DeCastro (knee), RB James Conner (ankle), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee), WR Diontae Johnson (toe), OL Stefen Wisniewski (chest) and DE Stephon Tuitt (Achilles) did not practice Wednesday. ... Roethlisberger and C Maurkice Pouncey were given the day off.
CINCINNATI – Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo pitched a masterful seven innings, Shogo Akiyama drove in the game’s only run, and the Reds extended their winning streak to a season-high five games with a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night.
Castillo (3-5), coming off his first career complete game in a 3-1 win at St. Louis on Friday, retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced and gave up only three hits and a walk with 10 strikeouts, helping the Reds stay close in the National League playoff race.
Archie Bradley pitched a perfect eighth before Raisel Iglesias pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his eighth save.
Pittsburgh rookie J.T. Brubaker (1-2) tied his career high with 5 1/3 innings, giving up five hits and the lone run with one walk and four strikeouts.
Brubaker, who grew up about 90 miles north of Cincinnati in Springfield, Ohio, allowed a hit and a walk in four innings before the Reds pieced together a two-out rally in the fifth on consecutive singles by Jose Garcia, Curt Casali and Akiyama, whose liner to left knocked in Garcia.
The third-place Reds went into Wednesday’s series finale one-half game behind second-place St. Louis in the Central and ninth in the overall NL standings, one-half game behind the Giants for the final postseason berth. San Francisco was scheduled to play the Mariners late Wednesday in a game postponed from Tuesday and moved from Seattle to San Francisco because of poor air quality.
St. Louis beat the Brewers, 4-2, on Wednesday in the first game of a doubleheader in Milwaukee. The top two teams in each division and the two teams in the league with the next-best records qualify for the playoffs.
The Pirates set a season low for hits and couldn’t get a runner past first base on the way to their season-high eighth straight loss.
Trainer’s room: Pirates: Closer Keone Kela likely isn’t returning to pitch for the Pirates with less than two weeks left in the season. He’s been out with right forearm inflammation since Aug. 21. Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said Kela is playing catch but still not throwing off a mound.
Reds: LHP Wade Miley “threw well” during a side session on Tuesday, manager David Bell said before Wednesday’s game. “We’ll see how he recovers,” Bell said. Miley (0-3) has been out since Aug. 28 with a left shoulder strain..
Up next: Pirates: LHP Steven Brault (0-3) goes against St. Louis RHP Dakota Hudson (3-2, 2.92 ERA) on Thursday night. Brault is 0-7 with a 5.97 ERA in five starts and six relief appearances against the Cardinals in his career.
Reds: Cincinnati’s and the White Sox’s starting pitchers for Friday’s series-opener were not announced.