PIAA says ‘competitive fairness issues exist,’ but remains opposed to public/private split

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 | 11:30 AM

The PIAA’s message is clear: find another solution.

In a letter to combative public school administrators, the PIAA Board of Directors reaffirmed its long-held position that public, charter and private schools cannot and should not be divided into separate playoffs.

The board “recognizes that competitive fairness issues exist but also believes there are alternatives to segregated tournaments,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi wrote Tuesday to superintendents Leonard Rich of Laurel and Bill Hall of Millcreek.

The PIAA publicly released a similar but shorter “position statement” on Wednesday.

Both were written in response to a meeting last month between the PIAA Competition Committee and the newly renamed Pennsylvania Athletics Equity Steering Committee , led by Rich and Hall. The public school administrators are pushing a grassroots effort to split so-called boundary and nonboundary schools into separate postseason tournaments.

The administrators insist the current competitive landscape is unfair to public schools, and organized a “PIAA Playoff Equity Summit” last summer in State College that fueled an already heated debate.

However, the PIAA consistently has countered that separate playoffs are not allowed under state legislation from 1972, which granted private schools full membership in the PIAA.

On advice from its legal team, the PIAA’s opinion remains that “ the 1972 legislation directing PIAA to accept private schools as PIAA members was specifically intended to result in championship competition between the public and private schools,” Lombardi wrote Tuesday in his letter to Rich and Hall. “Unless and until the General Assembly, or its Athletic Oversight Committee, provides an opinion to PIAA suggesting that our interpretation is incorrect, PIAA will not act contrary to this legislative intent.”

Rich said his committee already was confident the PIAA had dug in its heels and would make this a legislative issue but was pleased to see the PIAA admit there’s a problem.

“On one hand, they’re saying there’s a competitive imbalance, and on the other, they’re saying they’re powerless to do anything,” Rich said. “So they’re kicking the can to the legislature. Quite frankly, I think it’s a step in the right direction because previously there would not even be the admission that there was a competitive imbalance.

“I think the cries in the wilderness have been so strong that now they cannot deny there’s a competitive imbalance,” Rich added.

In the letter, Lombardi highlighted efforts the PIAA already undertook to fix the imbalance, including “ significant changes to the transfer rules .” The PIAA also created a competition formula that will promote the state’s most successful teams into a higher classification starting in 2020-21, if they also received an inordinate number of transfers.

“The board feels that they’ve taken some action that will address the concerns of the membership,” Lombardi said in an interview Wednesday. “But the second point in the position statement — which I think is important — is that the board hasn’t closed their ears. They have said they will listen and continue to study and review proposals.

“But it’s equity for all member schools,” he added.

The PIAA encouraged the public school administrators, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Charter School Coalition to work together to find common ground for proposals that would comply with Act 219.

Representatives from all three groups along with Lombardi testified before the State Athletic Oversight Committee in recent months. The public school administrators asked for legislation that would facilitate a public/private split.

“I can’t speak for the general assembly, but I do know that this (Act 219) has been in since 1972,” Lombardi said, “and there hasn’t been any legislation introduced since that time to change it.”

In the letter to Rich and Hall, the PIAA also instructed the public school administrators to stop using the name “PIAA Equity Steering Committee” to avoid confusion and not infringe on the PIAA’s trademark. The group changed its name to Pennsylvania Athletics Equity Steering Committee.

The PIAA position statement released Wednesday read:

“The PIAA Board of Directors, at the recommendation of counsel, concludes and therefore reaffirms that the separation of playoffs with regard to public, charter and private schools is contrary to the publicly documented legislative intent of Act 219 of 1972.

“The PIAA Board of Directors in conjunction with its many advisory and steering committee groups will continue to study and consider proposals brought forward that may further enhance equity for all member schools within the association.

“To that end, the PIAA Board of Directors recommends that the PA Equity Group, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Charter School Coalition attempt to work in unison to find common ground within their respective groups in providing proposals for consideration that are consistent with the intent of Act 219 and further aids in establishment or revision of policies for the betterment of all student-athletes.

“The PIAA Board of Directors looks forward to a continuing dialogue with these and all other constituent groups.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

click me