Butler rejoining WPIAL football in 2024, ends dispute with PIAA

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Monday, March 13, 2023 | 11:57 PM


The Butler football team will rejoin the WPIAL in 2024, ending a legal dispute between the school district and PIAA over the team’s desire to stay in District 10.

Butler athletic director Bill Mylan said the school district reached an agreement with the PIAA in an effort to avoid further litigation. The football team left WPIAL competition for a District 10 schedule three years ago as a way to bolster the struggling program.

The school’s other sports stayed in the WPIAL.

“Our ultimate goal was to come back into the WPIAL at some point,” said Mylan, adding that this agreement likely accelerated the timeline by a couple of years.

The football team will remain in District 10 for one more season and is eligible for that district’s playoffs this fall. The team has found some success there with 11 combined wins in three seasons. The Tornado went winless in the WPIAL in 2018 and ’19.

“We have definitely turned the ship around,” Mylan said. “I would have probably liked to see another two-year cycle just to make sure we were on stable ground and continuing to move forward, but our roster numbers went up drastically.”

Butler is the fourth-largest school district in the WPIAL. Yet the football team had fewer than 20 players in uniform for a 55-6 loss to Central Catholic in 2019, Mylan said.

“Besides not being competitive, we had a safety concern,” he said.

The dispute between the school and PIAA involved whether Butler received permission from the WPIAL board three years ago to join District 10 football as a so-called “associate member.” The dispute led to legal action when the WPIAL and PIAA tried to prohibit Butler from taking part in the District 10 football playoffs last fall.

The school district took the fight to court, and a Butler County judge in October ruled in the football team’s favor. A Commonwealth Court judge upheld that lower-court decision in November, letting the team enter the playoffs.

District 10 includes schools from Mercer, Erie and other northwestern counties.

In February, the PIAA board voted to rewrite its bylaws to address similar situations. The updated language says: “Teams from member schools are eligible to participate in PIAA District Championship tournaments and Contests only in the PIAA District in which they are a member.”

Butler is a District 7 (WPIAL) member, but since the team already was accepted as a member of District 10 football for the current two-year cycle, the bylaws change won’t impact the 2023 season. However, the rewrite could’ve prevented Butler from seeking renewed membership in District 10 for the 2024 and ’25 seasons.

“You’ll no longer be able to jump from one district to another to play,” Mylan said, “so (the agreement) avoids future litigation and time and effort.”

Mylan said Butler has asked the PIAA to consider adding a “relegation” mechanism to its competitive-balance rule that would let struggling teams move to a lower classification. The current rule only promotes successful teams to a higher classification.

“The PIAA said they would bring this up at one of their meetings,” he said, “and if they agree to talk about relegation, they would involve us in that process.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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