A proposal that would attempt to slow the number of transferring student-athletes by making them ineligible for a year is drawing statewide attention.
But even though many local athletic directors admit that transfers are a big issue, several say this proposal has little chance of passing in its current form.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association has proposed that a student-athlete would be automatically ineligible for a year of varsity sports if they transfer after starting ninth grade. However, the transferring student can gain eligibility by meeting one of five exceptions.
►A "bona fide" move by parents, which would exclude renting an apartment in a school district just to play sports there.
►A legal change of custody by a court of common pleas.
►Closure of a school.
►A hardship case, such as bullying or harassment, that would prompt a student and his or her parents to leave a bad situation for a better one.
►A transfer to a residential public school, which means someone transferring from a private school to a public school would be eligible while a student going from a public school to a private school would not.
The PSADA proposal came out of its convention March 21-24 in Hershey, which was the same week that the state basketball championships were held at the Giant Center. It also came in the same time frame that the PIAA Board of Control announced the formation of a new competition committee that will look into a variety of issues pertaining to a level playing field.
The proposal will be presented to the PIAA Board on May 24, which is also the next time the competition committee will meet.
"Not a chance it passes. ... it's not going to fly," said District 11 chairman and Whitehall High athletic director Bob Hartman, who is a member of the new competition committee. "However, you have to start somewhere. You can argue that we've already started with the formation of the competition committee where we're going to look into the transfer issue and a lot of other things."
PSADA, according to the Post-Gazette, feels the current PIAA student-athlete rule is ambiguous and inconsistent in how it's enforced by districts across the state.
Currently, a transfer student is eligible if there is a "principal to principal signoff" by each of the schools involved and athletic intent is not proven.
Transfers get lots of attention: The issue of transfers has received attention and created dissension for decades. It was deemed the primary cause of the breakup of the original East Penn Conference back in the late 1990s and was again spotlighted when the current Eastern Pennsylvania Conference was formed in 2014 and neither Central Catholic nor Bethlehem Catholic, both private schools, was initially invited.
Statewide, the issue gained traction with the inclusion of the Philadelphia Public and Catholic League schools into the PIAA over the past 15 years and the increasing number of charter schools.
"This is a topic we hear about constantly, whether it's through back channels or formal complaints," Hartman said. "It's something we constantly talk about, and deal with. Transfers permeate leagues, and create bad blood. Whether you're the receiving school or the sending school, it strains relationships, and education and athletics are about relationships.
"It's fair to say people are looking for something tighter. If tighter means legal, I don't know."
Hartman and PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi have acknowledged that the complaints reach a crescendo during the state football and basketball championships. A breakdown of public schools versus non-private schools competing on those weekends in Hershey usually comes out in favor of private schools.
This year, for example, the state basketball finals featured 16 private or charter schools of the 24 participating teams.
"If schools, whether they're public, private or charter, aren't successful, no one complains," Lombardi said last month. "People complain about public and private schools that are repetitively successful. You have had that in the Lehigh Valley. It happens all the time everywhere."
Separate tournaments unlikely: Those hoping for separate tournaments for public and private schools to determine state champions, a format used in other states such as New Jersey and Virginia, aren't going to get their wish.
"It's just not going to happen. It's not legal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," Hartman said. "You can't separate them. That's not a solution."
However, he said that formulas that other states use to determine classification, and take into account the area a school can draw from, will be part of the upcoming competition committee discussions.
Emmaus Athletic Director Dennis Ramella has been a PSADA member for 31 years and has served as its president. He has a unique perspective on the transfer issue since he spent 13 years as athletic director at Central Catholic before becoming the AD at Emmaus in 1999.
"This not a one-year occurrence," he said. "Every year there are complaints and every year there are new plans to deal with eligibility. I've gone out to a number of national conferences and it's a main issue on the national level as well. My comment has always been that if someone has the silver bullet, they haven't shared it with anybody. People are constantly trying to come up with rules to deal with transfers and they haven't found a good one yet."
Ramella's personal belief is that students should be allowed to go where they and their parents wish. However, he said that as long as there are rules in place, all schools should be following them.
"There are some schools that are not following them and they're using certain tactics to get around it and that's not fair," he said. "I have a problem with schools who actually go out and recruit kids.
"A parent should always have the right to decide where their child gets an education. That's a fundamental right. But what aggravates me is the schools who use their position to go out and recruit kids and that's wrong. The PIAA has a constitution and it's my job to follow that constitution."
Conflicting opinions: Ramella's son, Ray, the Nazareth athletic director, attended the PSADA convention and said there were a lot of conflicting opinions and some opposition to what was eventually laid out in the proposal.
"Some of the private schools weighed in, especially on the part where you would essentially allow a transfer to a public school, but declare a transfer to a private school ineligible," Ray Ramella said. "The conversation went in many different directions in a short period of time. I would agree with Bob Hartman that the proposal, as it's currently presented, has no chance."
Northern Lehigh Athletic Director Bryan Geist said he believes something should be implemented to slow down the increasing movement of student-athletes.
"People want to move like a free agent in pro sports," Geist said. "We're in the business of education first, athletics second. I think it's important for people to know that transferring for athletic reasons is illegal and will get shut down at the district level if there's any problem. There is a problem. I don't know if there's a perfect solution."