It’s an argument that comes to a boiling point at least twice a year — once when the state football playoffs begin and again when the basketball championships commence.
In between, there is endless talk of what the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association can do about leveling the playing field between the haves and the have nots.
The haves, in this case, are the nonboundary schools, which are the private, parochial and charter schools that can draw student-athletes from a far-ranging area and sometimes even other states.
The have nots are the public schools or boundary schools, which are locked in by a specific territory that requires student-athletes to live within those constraints to attend that school.
Nonboundary schools won seven of the 12 PIAA basketball championships contested in March. Add in football, and nonboundary schools won nine of the 18 championships.
The debate reached a fervor when sophomore Diamond Johnson, who averaged 33 points per game while playing at a high school in Virginia, transferred to Neumann-Goretti in February. She played a role in Neumann-Goretti’s state championship win.
Help on the way? Help could be on the way for boundary schools.
State senators Scott Martin, R-Lancaster County, and Robert Tomlinson, R-Bucks County, are scheduled to meet with PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi on Tuesday in Harrisburg.
“The first thing we were working on and wanted to talk about was the transfer-related stuff, particularly football and basketball,” said Martin, who sees progress being made in regards to transfer rules.
“The bigger thing is looking at the playoff format system.”
The private, charter and parochial schools are dominating the football and basketball playoffs at the state level. Going to six classifications was supposed to help alleviate the issue, but that has not been the case. Public schools have had a difficult time competing with the nonboundary schools, such as Archbishop Wood, which has played in six girls' basketball state finals since 2010.
It’s the law: In 1972, the state adopted legislation requiring that PIAA accept private schools into its membership. Prior to that, the catholic schools had their own division.
Because of the law, nonboundary schools and boundary schools must compete against one another for state championships. This is where the boundary schools are screaming foul, but it would take an act of legislation to change the law.
“To separate the public schools and private schools is illegal under the current law,” Martin said. “I went to Lancaster Catholic and the majority of those students were from Lancaster County. Other nonboundary schools are bringing in athletes from a much broader geographical area. I would love to see a system where you declare if you are a boundary school, you are in that division for the postseason. If you declare nonboundary, you are in that division for the postseason. I believe it can be done with the current law.
“There is almost nil support to change the law from 1972. If anyone attempted to say private schools can’t compete in the PIAA playoffs, that has zero percent chance. I would not be in favor of that.”
When the Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association met to pick the Big 33 and East-West All-Star teams, a straw poll was conducted and the group was overwhelmingly in favor of separating the boundary and nonboundary schools in postseason play.