Legislation to split public, private school sports ‘poorly crafted,’ PIAA exec says

Tuesday, June 11, 2019 | 4:07 PM

Legislation introduced Tuesday to split public and private high school athletics was “poorly crafted” and an “end-around of the (State Athletic) Oversight Committee,” said PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi.

Lombardi said he watched state Rep. Aaron Bernstine’s press conference announcing the “Parity in Interscholastic Athletics Act,” legislation created in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Athletic Equity Committee, a group of outspoken public school advocates critical of the PIAA.

The PAEC, led by Laurel superintendent Leonard Rich and Millcreek Township superintendent Bill Hall, has argued for months that private schools have an unfair competitive advantage over traditional public schools. Rich, Hall and other PAEC representatives testified before the Oversight Committee in September.

“They told the equity group that they should be working through the (PIAA) process. They haven’t done that,” Lombardi said. “They had one meeting with us in November and the board asked them if they had a plan. There was none. Now we have this, which I think is poorly crafted at best.”

The legislation proposed by Bernstine would split public and private schools into separate state tournaments for eight team sports: football, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, boys and girls soccer and girls volleyball.

The revamped tournaments would have equal numbers of public and private schools participating.

In an official statement, the PIAA said its board of directors “does not believe creating segregated public/private classifications and/or tournaments is the answer. There are numerous reasons for this. This proposal of having 18 percent of private schools being guaranteed 50 percent of the championship entries promotes inequities in postseason opportunities.”

The legislation proposed crowning both a public school and private school state champion, and then letting those two teams compete for the overall PIAA trophy.

The PIAA statement also took aim at that idea, saying: “Extending sports seasons to host an additional tournament of champions between private and public schools serves no educational purpose. This would cause scheduling issues, would be detrimental to the health and safety of student-athletes and their possible participation in subsequent sport seasons.”

If approved by the state house, senate and Gov. Tom Wolf, the legislation also would eliminate nearly all PIAA transfer restrictions, a move Lombardi considered “contrary to the purposes of the PIAA when we were organized in 1913.”

In its statement, the PIAA said: “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.”

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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