'No excuse for people to go hungry': Ministry launches mobile pantry

PIAA lays groundwork for high schoolers to profit from name, image, likeness

Steve Rotstein
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

Back in April, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi told the Post-Gazette that a new policy allowing high school student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness could soon be coming to Pennsylvania.

Nothing is set in stone yet, but the wheels appear to be in motion for NIL deals to make their way to the PIAA.

At Wednesday's PIAA board of directors meeting, the board approved on first reading a new policy to allow student-athletes to profit off their NIL. This comes in the aftermath of the NCAA introducing a groundbreaking NIL policy last July — one that has already caused major shifts in the college sports landscape.

Several state associations already have NIL policies in place, including Alaska, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Utah. And if the PIAA's proposal passes through two more readings, Pennsylvania will officially join the list.

"I think it's huge for young people, for student athletes, and even young people that aren't in the athletic realm," said PIAA assistant executive director Melissa Mertz. "This age grouping is so into social media and having their image out there and being trendsetters and having lots and lots of followers. It really sets them up to where now they can receive possible compensation or consideration they weren't able to receive previously."

Under the proposed policy, high school student-athletes would be eligible to make money off commercial endorsements and promotional activities — although there would be some limits.

Students would not be permitted to endorse products and services such as adult entertainment, alcohol, controlled substances, opioids, casinos, gambling, and weapons, firearms or ammunition. Athletes also cannot wear school uniforms or make reference to the PIAA or their school or team name.

"We wanted to control the language. We wanted to control the parameters. We didn't want it to be forced on us," Mertz said. "A big piece of this is the education piece. We have a company that we'll probably look to partner with to provide education to the students, because there are a lot of implications that come with this, with the IRS, taxes, etc. It's very important that we do it the right way and educate the families."

Although a similar proposal in Ohio was recently voted down, Mertz said that didn't deter the PIAA from moving forward with the new policy.

"We felt they wrote a pretty complex policy that maybe wasn't easy to understand. I think maybe that's the reason that didn't pass," Mertz said. "We looked strongly at New Jersey and New York. ... In the state association business we do that often, kind of borrow and steal and help each other out that way."

Because there must be two more readings before the policy can become official, it likely won't take into effect until 2023 at the earliest.

Changes to competition formula: Also on a first-reading basis, the PIAA approved changes to its competition formula that is designed to help maintain competitive balance among its member schools. Under the original formula, teams who accumulated at least six success points over a two-year period while also acquiring a given number of transfer students were forced to bump up to the next classification above their enrollment.

If the new proposal becomes official, the formula will no longer take into account the number of transfers a team had. Instead, it will count only the team's success points, which are based on PIAA playoff wins and how far the team advances into the postseason.

If approved, the new proposal will also expand the competition formula to include all sports, rather than just football and basketball.

"There was a lot of concern over the subjectivity that came into play when we looked into transfers and hearing appeals," Mertz said. "Additionally, the board felt very strongly about adding this to the other team sports and putting this in place."

Changes to enrollment criteria: The PIAA is also considering changes to the enrollment criteria used to group its member schools into classifications, specifically regarding the "10% rule" that is used to count non-traditional students such as cyber, charter school and home schooled students toward enrollment.

On a first-reading basis, the PIAA approved a change to the policy that will get rid of the 10% rule altogether, thus counting those non-traditional students as full students toward a school's enrollment number.

"We felt it's probably time for us to look at doing just what the Department of Education does — a student is a student," Mertz said. "You count them one for one."

Spring sports championships: In announcing sites for spring sports championships to be held from 2023-26, the PIAA is sticking with the status quo — for the most part.

Baseball, softball and boys' volleyball championships will remain at Penn State's campus in University Park. Track and field championships will still be held on Shippensburg's campus, and boys' tennis championships will remain at the Hershey Racquet Club. The only sport moving to a new home for the PIAA championships is lacrosse, which will now hold its championships at Penn State as well.

"Our intent is to try to do a bit of a spring sports festival [at Penn State]," Mertz said. "We've been talking about this for a few years now, trying to group together a few of our championships at a facility that can handle it."

Championship broadcasts: The PIAA announced a new deal with Pennsylvania Cable Network that will run from 2022-26, awarding PCN with exclusive broadcast rights to the majority of PIAA championship events. PCN will televise the PIAA championships in football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, track, field hockey, lacrosse, volleyball, swimming, cross country and cheer.

The only sport that will not return to PCN is wrestling. The PIAA team and individual wrestling championships will continue to be streamed exclusively on FloSports, as has been the case since 2019.

Although some have called for the wrestling championships to return to PCN, Mertz said Flo's ability to stream every single match of the tournament online made it an easy choice to continue its partnership with the PIAA.

"A big key to that is Flo is the only one that has the capability to do all the matches," Mertz said. "[PIAA chief operating officer] Mark Byers reported that it actually is the largest streamed event that [FloSports] put out. It has been what we wanted it to be."

>> Please consider subscribing to support local journalism.