Bill tar­gets PIAA play­offs, trans­fer rule

Pro­posed leg­is­la­tion would sep­a­rate pub­lic, pri­vate school tour­na­ments

The Times-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOBY FAWCETT STAFF WRITER

A plan to sep­a­rate state high school play­offs for pub­lic and pri­vate schools was un­veiled Tues­day and in­cluded a sur­pris­ing move to elim­i­nate the Penn­syl­va­nia In­ter­scholas­tic Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion trans­fer rule.

State Rep. Aaron Bern­s­tine, R-beaver, in­tro­duced House Bill 1600, also known as the Parity In­ter­scholas­tic Ath­let­ics Act, dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Har­ris­burg. If passed by the state House and Se­nate and signed by the gover­nor, the leg­is­la­tion would cre­ate sep­a­rate PIAA tour­na­ments for pub­lic and pri­vate schools in foot­ball, boys and girls bas­ket­ball, boys and girls soccer, girls vol­ley­ball, and base­ball and soft­ball. Char­ter schools would be in­cluded among pub­lic schools.

Dis­trict tour­na­ments and reg­u­lar sea­sons would not be af­fected by the pro­posed changes.

The elim­i­na­tion of the trans­fer rule, Bern­s­tine said, would ad­dress the in­equitable en­force­ment of it at the PIAA and dis­trict lev­els.

“The PIAA and the dis­tricts have done their best,” Bern­s­tine said. “There are so many mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors and stu­dents are be­ing hurt and harmed not only ath­let­i­cally, but aca­dem­i­cally. Tak­ing that away puts stu­dents in the best sit­u­a­tion to suc­ceed ath­let­i­cally and aca­dem­i­cally.”

On Tues­day af­ter­noon, the PIAA is­sued a state­ment re­buk­ing the leg­is­la­tion, say­ing that “cre­at­ing seg­re­gated pub­lic/pri­vate clas­si­fi­ca­tions and/or tour­na­ments” is not the an­swer and is “ill-ad­vised, con­trary to the pur­poses of PIAA, is un­fair to our mem­ber­ship and should be re­jected.”

The PIAA took an even stronger stance in re­gard to the trans­fer rule.

“The elim­i­na­tion of the trans­fer rule would ex­pose Penn­syl­va­nia ath­letes and schools to the chaos that has re­sulted in those states which have done so. It re­quires lit­tle re­search to see what has hap­pened in states that per­mit open trans­fers. AAU teams, shoe com­pa­nies and other third par­ties pro­mote con­sol­i­da­tion of top ath­letes at ‘pre­ferred’ schools, which re­sult in pow­er­houses where schools sim­ply reload each year with high pro­file ath­letes,” the re­lease stated.

The PIAA has long stood be­hind Act 219. Adopted in 1972, it pro­vides equal­ity for all schools in the state and brought to an end the Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic In­ter­scholas­tic Cham­pi­onship tour­na­ments.

“The pro­posal, I think, has pit­falls for schools,” PIAA Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Robert Lom­bardi said. “I don’t think this was very well crafted and it is con­trary to the work we have done with the Penn­syl­va­nia Ath­letic Over­sight

Com­mit­tee, which we an­swer to an­nu­ally.”

The leg­is­la­tion was drafted by a team that in­cluded Bern­s­tine, Eric A. Fail­ing, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence; Sean Mcaleer, Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence De­part­ment on El­e­men­tary and Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion direc­tor; Wil­liam Hall, su­per­in­ten­dent at Mill­creek Town­ship School Dis­trict, and Leonard Rich, su­per­in­ten­dent at Lau­rel School Dis­trict, who rep­re­sented the Penn­syl­va­nia Eq­uity Steer­ing Com­mit­tee.

The Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence rep­re­sents all of the state’s Catholic dio­ce­ses and its sup­port of the bill is in con­trast to its once strong op­po­si­tion to sep­a­ra­tion of schools when it comes to ath­let­ics.

“This is a big change,” Fail­ing said. “Change can be scary. Don’t make any snap judg­ments. This is about the kids. We just want to make sure all kids are treated fairly. There have been is­sues in sports. There are is­sues with the PIAA. When we had the in­vi­ta­tion to sit down and work on this is­sue, it’s ex­actly what we wanted to do. We don’t close our door to any­body.”

Bern­s­tine said the bill came to­gether after al­most a year of work fol­low­ing the su­per­in­ten­dents’ Play­off Eq­uity Sum­mit in State Col­lege last sum­mer, led by Rich and Hall.

In ad­dress­ing the con­cerns from pub­lic school su­per­in­ten­dents and ad­min­is­tra­tors at that meet­ing, the PIAA made ad­just­ments to cur­tail the perceived in­equities in com­pet­i­tive bal­ance that stoke this is­sue.

The PIAA worked with the Penn­syl­va­nia Ath­letic Over­sight Com­mit­tee since Septem­ber, and ad­vised the Eq­uity Com­mit­tee to work to­gether in ad­dress­ing some of the con­cerns.

“(The) PIAA has firmed up its trans­fer rules and adopted a com­pe­ti­tion for­mula to ad­dress com­pet­i­tive bal­ance based upon the wishes of the mem­ber­ship. The process of re-clas­si­fy­ing schools will be­gin at the end of the 2019 fall sports sea­son,” ac­cord­ing to the PIAA re­lease.

The PIAA ac­knowl­edged con­cerns among its mem­ber­ship, and em­pha­sized its ef­fort in work­ing with the PAOC to make a more level play­ing field, and feels this leg­is­la­tion neg­a­tively im­pacts the progress made by the organizati­on.

“While we un­der­stand de­sires to solve perceived prob­lems, this ap­proach is con­trary to the PAOC’S di­rec­tion, which is to have all of the rep­re­sented con­stituen­cies, discuss and ad­dress the is­sues. That is the func­tion of the PIAA Board of Di­rec­tors, which has all groups rep­re­sented.

“De­spite rep­re­sen­ta­tions that all stake­hold­ers were at the ta­ble, PIAA was not part of the de­vel­op­ment of this leg­is­la­tion. This leg­is­la­tion is a dis­ap­point­ing ef­fort at an end run around the PAOC’S po­si­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the state­ment.

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