Aliquippa has ‘no legitimate complaint’ about competitive-balance rule, says PIAA executive director

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Sunday, December 12, 2021 | 11:56 AM


HERSHEY — The state’s competitive-balance rule is working as originally intended, despite Aliquippa football’s strong objections to playing bigger schools, says the PIAA’s top administrator.

“In my opinion, they have no legitimate complaint,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said “as seen by winning a state championship this year, and last year losing to the ultimate state champion (Thomas Jefferson) in overtime. It’s pretty difficult (to agree with Aliquippa) when you look at five kids of 300 pounds or more and over 6-foot-4.

“There’s no single-A school that has that.”

Aliquippa is a small school district with a Class A enrollment, but the Quips celebrated as unwilling Class 4A state champions Thursday because of a PIAA rule that measures postseason success and transfers added. This is Aliquippa’s second year as a 4A team. The Quips defeated Bishop McDevitt, 34-27, behind an offensive line that averages 300 pounds.

A year ago, the Quips lost to Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL finals.

As a result of that postseason success, Aliquippa now faces an involuntary promotion to Class 5A next season, a move the school’s administration has promised to fight. Quips coach Mike Warfield has argued consistently that playing schools with more kids and teams with larger rosters is both unfair and unsafe for his players.

But final scores from Friday nights this fall say the rule is working, Lombardi said. Aliquippa finished the season 13-1, losing only to eventual PIAA Class 3A champion Central Valley.

“You have to look at what happens on the field,” Lombardi said. “I know they don’t like it, but the simple fact is they have proven success at the levels they’ve participated in. They should move up.”

Aliquippa’s main argument is that the football team already was voluntarily playing up two classifications to Class 3A before the rule took effect. The competitive-balance rule was written in a way to move teams up from their current competition level, not from their true enrollment classification.

Aliquippa wants that part of the rule to be rewritten, but Lombardi said the PIAA is not considering that idea.

Dunmore, a Lackawanna County school district, unsuccessfully challenged the competitive-balance rule in court last winter, which bolstered the PIAA’s position.

“We got a 41-page opinion that not only is it fair, but it’s consistent,” Lombardi said. “It’s the same across the board.”

The PIAA has discussed changing some parts of the rule, potentially making it impact more teams.

There are ongoing discussions about expanding the rule to include team sports other than football and basketball, the two currently covered by the rule. The PIAA earlier this month provided its 12 districts, including the WPIAL and City League, information showing how the rule would impact those other sports.

After research, Lombardi said, the PIAA found there wouldn’t be much impact on those other sports. So, he said it’s unclear whether the rule will expand.

Separately, there has been preliminary discussions about whether the current rule should be changed to allow promotions based on success points alone — regardless of how many transfers a team adds. That would impact a football team such as Southern Columbia, which won its fifth consecutive PIAA Class 2A title on Friday. Southern Columbia avoided promotion to Class 3A two years ago by proving it didn’t have three or more transfers, the threshold written into the rule.

The PIAA has also discussed reducing the success point needed for promotion to a number less than six.

“There might be some tweaks, but probably not for this cycle,” said Lombardi, meaning the changes wouldn’t take effect until the 2024-25 school year, at the earliest.

The competitive-balance rule was approved by the PIAA board in 2018. The first teams were promoted before the 2020 football season.

“Any rule that’s new, people always have a better way,” Lombardi said. “But I will tell you this has worked out. It has done what it’s supposed to.”

As currently written, the rule targets football teams that both accumulate six “success points” and add three or more transfers in a two-year cycle. Teams that reach the state finals are awarded four success points. Semifinalists receive three, quarterfinalists two and first-round participants get one.

The PIAA has an appeals process, but to prevail, a football team likely must prove it didn’t add three or more transfers in the past two seasons. Warfield has said Aliquippa had five, but pointed out there was no competitive advantage gained since none played in the postseason.

“I don’t want to hear anything about transfers,” Warfield said Thursday, “because no transfers played tonight. No transfer has played in the playoffs. I don’t want to hear anything about transfers.”

There are multiple levels of appeal. The first is an appeal to the PIAA executive staff. If that fails, a school can request an appeal before the PIAA board.

Along with Aliquippa, seven other football teams accumulated enough success points to face promotion: Bishop Guilfoyle and Redbank Valley in Class A, Southern Columbia in 2A, Central Valley and Wyomissing in 3A, Jersey Shore in 4A and Cathedral Prep in 5A. St. Joseph’s Prep also accumulated enough for promotion, but the team already competes in 6A, the state’s largest classification.

The rule won’t impact Central Valley because the Warriors are moving to 4A next season based on new enrollment numbers. The fate of the others will depend on whether they added three or more transfers.

Lombardi encouraged unhappy schools to appeal. The PIAA likely will hold appeal hearings in January.

“Before you go off the rails,” he said, “go through the process.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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