Give the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association this much. At least it's listening to the complaints of fans and teams when it comes to competitive balance.
Not even month ago, the PIAA created the competition committee during the state basketball playoffs to discuss, among other issues, the state's transfer issues.
Now the governing body of state high school athletics is looking at another way to keep the game more competitive throughout all six classifications.
The new possibility, which is in its infancy, would move repeat district and state champions up a class to create a level of balance at one class, while also forcing the dominant programs to test their limits against bigger schools. If you're familiar with any European professional sports league, especially soccer, think of it as a promotion/relegation system, but the emphasis is on the promotion of dominant teams, and not so much the relegation of struggling ones.
As of right now, the potential rule change has only been discussed as a possibility by the PIAA, but it's a step in the right direction in the quest for competitive balance.
The only question is: Will it work?
On the surface, the simple answer is an obvious yes.
The two most important discussions had by the competition committee — transfer rules and promotion — conceivably go hand-in-hand. When you look at some of the most dominant teams in the state, especially in football and basketball, they are private schools, which don't have to adhere to the geographic limitations placed on public schools.
The last three Class 1-A football championships have been won by Bishop Guilfoyle, while schools such as Archbishop Wood, Imhotep Charter and St. Joseph's Prep have all had runs of success at the higher class levels, including this year, when Wood won the 5-A state crown and St. Joe's took the 6-A championship.
In basketball, the one name that comes to mind when you think of overall dominance in a class is the Neumann-Goretti boys' and girls' teams. On the boys' side, the Saints have won seven of the last eight Class 3-A titles, including four in a row, while the girls' have won three consecutive state titles, taking the 3-A crown this year and the 2-A title the previous two seasons.
There isn't a whole lot that can be done regarding the sheer dominance of teams such as Archbishop Wood and St. Joseph's Prep in football. St. Joe's is already competing at the highest class, while Wood can only go up one more.
However, with perennial state champions at lower levels, such as Neumann-Goretti in basketball and Bishop Guilfoyle in football, the goal would be to get those private schools up to higher levels. Right now, classes are broken down by enrollment sizes. As a result, many private schools, which have small enrollments, tend to be in lower classes. The lack of restrictions on where they can get their student-athletes, however, creates an advantage that the public schools don't have. At least by bumping up perennial champions to a higher class, they'll compete against larger public schools that have a deeper talent pool to choose from.
While it will certainly take some time to pass this rule, one program within the York-Adams League that could certainly fall victim to it would be the Northeastern boys' volleyball team. Winners of four consecutive 2-A state titles, the Bobcats would get bumped up to 3-A, the highest class in volleyball, if the proposal was currently in effect. However, even as a 2-A program right now, Northeastern plays any and all takers during the regular season, regardless of class.
"When you look at our situation at Northeastern, we take all comers," head coach Matt Wilson said. "We seek everybody. We spend a lot of time thinking throughout the state who we want to face. ...We don't miss anybody and to move us up, I don't think it changes anything, quite frankly and I'm unabashed by saying I feel comfortable and confident that, over the last eight years, we were as deserving to win a state championship as anybody that won it at 3-A and probably beat that team."
District level: All of this seems like a good idea on a state scale, but, doing it with district champions might create some unnecessary headaches.
Implementing a rule where repeat state and district champions must move up in class may create too much movement.
Repeating as a district champion, while impressive, doesn't exactly spell dominance. It just means you could have the right core of players in place for a two- or three-year run, but it might not necessarily translate into state crowns. To go with that, too, is the fact that the team you win with one year, won't be the same the following season, so you have to look out for the unintended consequences of potentially punishing a team that might not be as strong for the program's past success.
"There's a level of consistency," Wilson said. "You can't penalize the next crop of kids who want to be great."
Plus, at least within the Y-A League, the divisions are broken into enrollment sizes, just like the state classes. So if you have a school getting bumped up in class for winning back-to-back district titles, that school could wind up facing teams within the league who still compete in lower classes, thus providing the one school with substantially less power rating points potential.
The best example of this would be with the York Catholic girls' basketball team. The Fighting Irish have won district titles in 11 of the last 12 seasons. The first 10, all in a row, were at 2-A, while this year's championship came at 3-A because of reclassification. York Catholic's 10-year title in 2-A would have gotten them bumped up to 3-A, putting them at a disadvantage within the league, since they would've been facing league opponents that all would still operate at the 1-A or 2-A levels.
The PIAA is doing its best to hear out the complaints that fans of high school athletics have been shouting for so long.
Competitive balance makes everything more entertaining.
The only question will be, if any of these discussions turn into actual guidelines, will they work?
Only time will give us that answer.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com.