PIAA to appeal Beaver County judge’s decision that kept Aliquippa in 4A football

Monday, June 17, 2024 | 1:33 PM

The PIAA is taking its legal battle with Aliquippa to Commonwealth Court, hoping to undo a Beaver County judge’s ruling that says the Quips can play football in Class 4A next season.

Common Pleas Judge James Ross on Monday denied a request from the PIAA to put his May 23 decision on hold while it appeals. The judge last month issued a preliminary injunction that prevents the PIAA from using its competitive-balance rule to move the Quips into a higher classification.

The PIAA had asked Ross to stay his decision “pending further proceedings in the Commonwealth Court.” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi on Monday declined comment on active litigation.

The legal moves come less than two months before football teams start heat acclimatization in preparation for Week Zero openers Aug. 23.

The WPIAL in March released football schedules with Aliquippa in Class 5A for the 2024 and ‘25 seasons, but the league revised them this month and returned Aliquippa to 4A. The Quips are defending WPIAL and PIAA champions.

The competitive-balance rule affects football teams that have success in the state playoffs and add three or more transfers in a two-year cycle.

As a result, Aliquippa was headed to Class 5A until the school district filed a lawsuit against the PIAA, with intentions of exposing the competition formula as flawed and unfair. Ross heard three days of testimony in a Beaver County courtroom before granting the school’s injunction.

The WPIAL has returned the Quips to the Class 4A Parkway Conference, where they played for four seasons since the competitive-balance ruled first moved them up in 2020. They went 24-0 combined against Parkway opponents and won three WPIAL titles.

Last fall, the team went 14-0 and won its first undefeated state title.

Aliquippa was voluntarily playing up two classifications — from Class A to 3A football — before the PIAA adopted the competitive-balance rule in 2018. The school’s current enrollment qualifies the football team for 2A.

In its lawsuit, Aliquippa raised health and safety concerns associated with playing opponents with three or four times more students. It also questioned the process used by the PIAA in writing the rule and whether the rule was applied fairly.

Aliquippa presented five witnesses prior to the judge issuing the injunction in May, a list that included orthopedic surgeons Stephen Hribar and Patrick DeMeo, superintendent Phillip Woods, athletic director Jennifer Damico and football coach Mike Warfield. Lombardi and chief operating officer Mark Byers testified for the PIAA.

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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