During hearing, PIAA officials tell legislators changes coming to high school sports

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
  • PIAA officials met with state legislators at a hearing in Harrisburg on Monday.
  • PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi detailed some changes that the group is considering.
  • It's unlikely, however that the PIAA will have separate tournaments for private and public schools.

Anyone looking for some state-shaking development to come out of Monday’s annual Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee hearing at the Capitol in Harrisburg was probably left disappointed.

PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi.

Changes are coming, and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association let the legislature know what’s on the way.

But the state legislature is not yet prepared to step in and insist on separate tournaments for private and public schools.

Robert Lombardi, executive director of the PIAA, said Monday’s session went as expected.

“They wanted information on what’s going with the transfers and the public vs. private school issue since we last met on June 20th of last year and we laid out to them what our board has been doing,” Lombardi said. “We gave them seven points of what the board has addressed and they were receptive to what they heard. We wanted to show them we’re not sitting idly by and ignoring what people are talking about. We wanted to show them that our board is responsible to its membership. So, it was a good day.”

Seven points: The seven points Lombardi presented to the legislature came out of the competition committee that was formed in 2017. As Lombardi told the oversight committee, the board has adopted or is considering seven major changes to the PIAA’s by-laws and polices.

The seven are:

►1. Modifying the transfer waiver request form to apply a stricter standard on why the transfer was made and also asking for more information on addresses to alleviate concerns about transfers using temporary housing addresses merely to facilitate a change of schools.

►2. In-season transfers must sit out 21 days to allow districts more time to investigate transfers. This change also includes a provision barring a student who transfers after a season has begun from further participation during that season if that student was eligible and available to participate in 50 percent of the number of competitions allowed per sport.

►3. An eligibility portal has been posted on the PIAA website that will gather info that will allow officials to track all transfers and develop more data to review for use by the competition comm .

►4. Eligibility lists by schools must be completed within two weeks of the start of the regular season and penalties for non-compliance have been stiffened to include a fine and no post-season eligibility until compliance occurs. All transfer students are to be noted on the eligibility lists.

►5. The board passed on first reading a proposal that any transfer that occurs after the natural break between eighth and ninth grade, that student is not eligible for postseason play for one year after the transfer. If adopted, a waiver provision could be used for exceptional and unusual circumstances to be considered by the district committee at a hearing. However, these circumstances must be truly unique.

►6. The board is currently considering and passed on first reading a competition classification formula that addresses the success of teams and teams that receive transfers.

“This appears to be the crux of the complaints from the membership that some schools are having success and then reload with transfer students that affect the competitive balance of the teams,” Lombardi said. “It’s a pretty simple formula. You take enrollment classification and combine it with a success factor and the number of athletic transfers to get your classification.”

In short, if a team has district or state tournament success and receives two transfers in basketball or five transfers in football, for example, it will be required to move up one classification.

To address the schools that are already in the 6A classification, the largest class presently in the PIAA, a seventh class may be added.

►7. The board is further addressing competitive balance by reviewing out-of-season rules and regulations by further defining open gyms and conditioning activities and requiring out-of-season competitions to cease 10 days prior to the start of the season.

In discussion stages: Lombardi told the oversight committee that some of these approaches remain in the developmental and discussion stages. He added that the PIAA’s competition committee is scheduled to meet two more times before the PIAA’s board of directors meet on July 20.

If passed the new classification formula will go in effect in 2020-21 based on the standard school enrollment, success points and transfers accumulated in the coming two-year cycle.

Reversal of 1972 act unlikely: But as for now, the legislation doesn’t seem inclined to reverse what happened in 1972 when Act 219 was adopted. It stated “Private schools shall be permitted, if otherwise qualified, to be members of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.”

Prior to that only public schools competed in the PIAA while Catholic schools went into tournaments run by the Pennsylvania Catholic Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“Separating the playoffs isn’t going to happen right now, but the legislature was encouraged we’re trying to address these issues,” Lombardi said. “It was a very positive meeting and we thank Rep. Gene DiGirolamo for giving us the opportunity. He’s a solid guy and likes the steps we’re taking.

“Everybody has heard from a few rogue superintendents out there who think they’re going to come up with some crazy plan,” Lombardi added. “Those plans aren’t going to happen. The legislature is not going to upset the apple cart right now because we’re moving in the right direction.”