COLLINS: 'Parity' proposal would doom high school sports in Pennsylvania

(Scranton) Times-Tribune (TNS)
  • This week, a bill was introduced that would restructure Pennsylvania prep sports.
  • The bill would require separate state playoffs for public and private schools.
  • The bill would also eliminate nearly all transfer restrictions.
  • The bill is called the Parity in Interscholastic Sports Act.
Aaron Bernstine

I am grateful to live in a world where state legislators have nothing better to do than police how championships should be decided in just about every sport sanctioned by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

I’m also grateful we can now talk about this entire issue of public schools and private schools living not-so-harmoniously in the same athletic arenas and fields for what it is. Because this was never about coaches recruiting players, never about players transferring to better their opportunities to play or to win or for a better chance to get noticed.

It’s about the ability to call a school or a student who goes there a champion. Even if it means cheapening the meaning of the word. Even if it means eliminating as much of the competition as you possibly can to get that title affixed before your name.

And if we let them, lawmakers will sell the soul of high school athletics to give fans exactly what they want. Here’s guessing they’ll find it even more unpalatable once their order is shoved down their throats.

During a Tuesday press conference in Harrisburg, state Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-10, Lawrence County, unveiled House Bill 1600. It’s better known, laughably, as the Parity in Interscholastic Sports Act that, if passed by the state House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf, would mandate separate state high school championship tournaments for public and private schools in baseball, softball, football, boys and girls basketball, soccer and girls volleyball.

Parents, fans, coaches and, frankly, sports reporters have long railed about how too many hard-working, deserving kids are being denied their championship dreams because that Catholic school or charter school from the big city is drawing athletes from six towns or a half a world away.

Throwing fuel on fire: Always understood that frustration, of course. But Bernstine’s bill only throws jet fuel on a brush fire, mandating the elimination of the PIAA’s transfer rule, an admittedly amoebic policy that at least was starting to call for legitimate measures to curb the frequency of athletic-based transfers to more acceptable measures.

It also requires the public and private school champions to meet in a “Super Bowl” after their own tournaments.

This bill will not promote parity throughout the PIAA. It will promote chaos. It will promote coaches hitting the recruiting trail. It will promote kids transferring to play for a certain coach or with certain players, not just for school years, but season-by-season.

Really, it will necessitate recruiting and transferring, at least for the programs that want to be competitive.

Is that what we want?

PIAA opposed: In fairness, the phrase “promote chaos” is my opinion, but it’s shared by the PIAA. In a statement Tuesday, the organization vehemently argued against the “Parity” act, insisting that’s exactly what other states that have gone to separate public/private, all-transfers-welcome formats have faced in recent years.

“It requires little research to see what has happened in states that permit open transfers,” the statement read. “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.”

Prep sports will become big business: If you have your doubts this will happen here, just watch. High school sports will become big business for coaches and schools. Offseasons will be veritable meat markets for athletes who essentially become free agents every year once the hit ninth grade. And, probably, earlier.

If you’re still lured by the lure of better championship opportunities that this bill promises, think again. If you’re Valley View’s football team lamenting that, every year, you run into Imhotep Charter in the playoffs, guess what: You’re still going to run into Imhotep Charter. Because the proposed law lumps charter schools in with the publics. And let’s be honest, the nonboundary charter schools from the big cities are really the problem most public school fans in suburban areas have with the current system.

A win for Catholic school education: The “Parity” law is a win-win for Catholic school education. They not only don’t have to face the charters to win a championship anymore, but they can recruit.

And, they should.

It would be perfectly within the rules and probably a boon to a Catholic education system that is sagging in enrollment and funding. Why else would the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which has always spoken out bitterly against talk of separate tournaments, so proudly support this law?

Poorly thought out: Bernstine said he and his team put almost a year of work into this law. It’s shocking how poorly thought-out and potentially damaging it is to what we all love so much about high school sports. The sense of community. The bonds that tie the generations.

Imagine if they focused those efforts on finding increased and equitable funding for public school education instead.

Government overreach: This is government overreach at its worst, especially considering the PIAA wasn’t invited to have input in the proposed new law. The statewide scholastic athletics governing body is far more an expert in athletic competition than a few public school superintendents, the Catholic Conference and a state rep grabbing at low-hanging fruit for support at the polls.

This law obviously circumvents recent work being done by the PIAA and the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee improve the current system.

Nuclear option not needed: No doubt, the system needed some tweaking. It didn’t need a nuclear warhead dropped on it.

This proposal is not even a first step toward parity. This is much closer to parity’s death.

Donnie Collins COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.