These are contentious times for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
It seems that, almost on a weekly basis, new discussions pop up about how to make high school athletics more fair.
First, there was the formation of the competition committee during the PIAA basketball finals. The aim of the committee is to discuss how it can deal with the growing uproar over the dominance of private and charter schools at the state level. In turn, that led to a discussion about a potential promotion-based plan that would force programs that repeat as district or state champions to bump up in class.
That one focused on the team aspect of high school athletics.
The latest proposal, however, focuses on the individual athletes.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported two weeks ago that the Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors' Association proposed a plan that would put strict guidelines on student-athlete transfers between schools once they enter high school. Under the proposal, if a student-athlete changed schools while in high school, they would automatically be ineligible for athletics for a full year, unless they met one of five stipulations to remain eligible.
The problem of private school dominance, especially in the high-profile sports of basketball and football, is nothing new. The commotion surrounding that dominance has just gotten louder.
Private schools, commonly referred to as "schools without borders," have long been accused of "recruiting" kids to play for their schools. Now, however, recruiting accusations against public schools are becoming more common as well.
Public schools: In fact, two York-Adams League coaches I talked to both brought up the Micah Parsons transfer that occurred midway through this past football season. Parsons, a top-five football recruit in the nation for the Class of 2018, left Central Dauphin and immediately began playing for Harrisburg. He left one playoff-bound team for another, helping the Cougars reach the Class 5-A state football finals, and then was a dominant force on the boys' basketball team, helping it win the 6-A district championship.
The York-Adams League doesn't appear to have a serious transfer problem, but the same can't be said for surrounding leagues within District 3.
"When I was at Central Dauphin East for two years, I was blown away by the mobility of the athletes up there in the Harrisburg area compared to York," West York boys' basketball coach Garrett Bull said. "We would get a kid that was at Susquehanna Township the previous year and now he's living with an aunt or an uncle and coming to our school and they would bounce around left or right."
Bull, who coached the junior varsity basketball team at C.D. East for two years, would ask the varsity coach, Bruce Leib, what plays he should run so the players would get used to what was being run at the varsity level, and Leib would just tell him not to worry about it because half the kids wouldn't be there by the time they got to the varsity level.
Private schools: However, the conversation around public-to-public school transfers isn't nearly as loud as it is with public-to-private transfers.
When it comes to private schools, many people automatically assume recruiting is happening. In some cases around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, that may be the case, but, again, it isn't happening everywhere. In the Y-A League, schools such as York Catholic and Delone Catholic might be private, but they don't appear to be openly recruiting kids to play for them. That may not be the case in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Red Lion football coach Jesse Shay cut his teeth as an assistant coach at Harrisburg's Bishop McDevitt. He was there for 10 years before taking over the Lions. While there, he served under current coach Jeff Weachter, who built a successful program, one that made parents want to send their kids to McDevitt.
Shay recalled an incident when a parent approached Weachter on a Saturday morning at a Harrisburg High football game and told him that he wanted his son to play football for him. In attendance for the conversation was former Cedar Cliff coach Jim Cantafio, and all he could do was shake his head in disbelief, according to Shay. Nothing about that interaction on Weachter's part was wrong or insinuated recruitment. It was the product of him building a strong program and not having to worry about geographic limitations when building his roster.
Fans have called for private and public schools to compete in separate playoffs and for separate titles, but that is likely out of the question. Expensive lawsuits would almost certainly follow.
Another popular solution has been to move all private schools up to the highest classification in all sports, since they're getting kids from areas that engulf a number of different public school districts. Of course, that would only encourage the private schools to recruit more heavily so that they can stay competitive against larger public schools.
These aren't light topics and should be taken seriously.
The PIAA will have plenty on its plate over the next months in an effort to find a reasonable solution.
Just remember, however, that every solution may create new, and unforeseen, problems.
Athletes and schools will find loopholes around any new guidelines, while fans will find the next big issue to holler about.
That is simply how it goes.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org