PIAA might ease co-op rules for small schools struggling to fill rosters

Thursday, October 3, 2019 | 10:11 PM

With many small districts struggling to fill rosters, the PIAA might make it easier for two schools to form a combined sports team.

Currently, for schools to create a shared team, the districts must be “contiguous,” meaning they share a border. But the PIAA board waived that rule this week for West Greene, which was allowed to form a cooperative sport agreement in boys soccer with Albert Gallatin, even though the two districts don’t touch.

West Greene administrators had one boy who wanted to play soccer and they told the PIAA that they’d exhausted all options with neighboring school districts, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. All were either unable or unwilling to co-op.

They extended their search farther — to noncontiguous schools — and found Albert Gallatin.

“Since the school went to all their surrounding schools, requested a co-op and were turned down … the board felt they were not violating the philosophy of the cooperative sponsorship (rules),” Lombardi said.

It was the second time that the PIAA board made that exception for a school. The PIAA approved a boys volleyball co-op between Avonworth and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart last year.

Now, the PIAA will consider whether those co-op rules should be changed for everyone. The PIAA board on Wednesday asked its competition committee to “discuss a protocol” for expanding cooperative sponsorships, Lombardi said.

That protocol could simply state that if contiguous districts are not an option, a school can search farther away for a co-op partner.

“They want to kick the tires on that a little bit to see if that’s a good thing,” Lombardi said, “or are there a lot of unintended consequences?”

Finding a co-op partner isn’t always easy.

Some schools are hesitant to take on additional athletes through a co-op because it can push that team into a higher classification with larger schools. To determine a co-op team’s classification, add the total male or female enrollment in grades 9-11 from the larger schools to half of the enrollment from the smaller school.

The rule was designed to help small schools, so there are restrictions in place to prevent two large schools from combining.

One of the WPIAL’s smallest schools, Union, has had public discussions about possibly pursuing a co-op for football next season. The school currently has its own football team but dwindling roster numbers are a concern.

Union could look to form a co-op with another Lawrence County school. If the Scotties choose the co-op route, its current options are Mohawk, Neshannock and New Castle, but that could change.

“Right now the answer is contiguous,” Lombardi said. “However, that is going to be debated.”

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

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