PIAA denies Aliquippa appeal asking to avoid promotion to Class 5A football

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Thursday, January 13, 2022 | 5:10 PM


The PIAA on Thursday denied an initial appeal from Aliquippa, which wants to avoid a pending promotion to Class 5A football next season.

But the appeal process isn’t over.

Aliquippa superintendent Phillip Woods said the school district will appeal again, this time to the entire PIAA board of directors, which meets Jan. 26. The outcome of Thursday’s initial appeal was determined only by the PIAA executive staff and based on paperwork alone.

The school district received the results in a letter from PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s not surprising,” Woods said. “We’re prepared to go wherever we’ve got to go.”

Woods said Thursday’s outcome didn’t lessen Aliquippa’s determination.

“I’m taking it as far as I can, until they tell me I can’t take it any farther,” he said. “Here. Legal. Whatever.”

The Aliquippa football team is facing a promotion to Class 5A under a PIAA competitive-balance rule that targets football teams that experience postseason success and add three or more transfers in a two-year period. Aliquippa added eight transfers combined in 2020 and ’21, according to the PIAA.

The Quips met the success part of the PIAA formula by winning the PIAA Class 4A title this season and reaching the WPIAL finals in 2020.

Woods said he was disappointed Thursday’s letter from the PIAA addressed only wins and transfers but didn’t consider any extenuating factors beyond the formula. In a five-page written appeal submitted to the PIAA, Aliquippa’s administration had argued that moving to 5A football would lead to “an inequitable, imbalanced and unsafe environment for its student athletes.”

Aliquippa insisted that its football team does not have a competitive advantage over Class 4A teams and therefore shouldn’t be promoted.

“Compared to the other districts in the 4A classification, Aliquippa already has to contend with the vast differences in enrollment, roster size, playing time, financial resources and practice facilities,” according to the appeal letter signed by Woods and Aliquippa principal Stacey Alexander.

Aliquippa included letters of support from more than two dozen individuals including Rep. Conor Lamb, state Rep. Rob Matzie and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Ty Law, an Aliquippa graduate. Administrators from four additional WPIAL schools also sent letters to the PIAA in support of Aliquippa.

“In their letter, the PIAA didn’t provide a rebuttal,” Woods said. “They didn’t say anything regarding the concerns we have.”

Aliquippa will take those concerns to the PIAA board.

Woods and football coach Mike Warfield have said that forcing a small-school football team such as Aliquippa to face opponents with two, three or four times more students is unfair and unsafe.

The PIAA has stood behind the competitive-balance rule as fair and consistent. The rule was unsuccessfully challenged in court last winter by Dunmore, a Lackawanna County school district.

The rule was created by the PIAA to address concerns that some schools were using transfers as a way to “reload” teams after graduation.

Aliquippa’s enrollment qualifies the Quips for Class A football, but they voluntarily played up to 3A football before the competitive balance rule took effect. The rule forced the team to Class 4A in 2020.

Woods wants the rule to be rewritten. As it’s now written, teams are promoted from their previous level of competition rather than from a team’s true enrollment class.

Aliquippa is one of seven football teams identified by the PIAA for possible promotion next season under the competitive-balance rule. The others are Redbank Valley, Bishop Guilfoyle, Southern Columbia, Wyomissing, Jersey Shore and Cathedral Prep.

The rule targeted Central Valley for promotion to Class 4A football, but the school’s enrollment already is moving the Warriors to 4A.

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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