High school sports are about to undergo some of their biggest changes in years due to regulations the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association approved on Wednesday to address transfers and competitiveness.
The changes include a creation of a "competition success formula" that would move high-performing teams into classifications for larger schools.
But the changes might not be enough to stop the push for what would be an even more significant shift: separate playoffs for "boundary" and "nonboundary" schools in football and girls' and boys' basketball.
Superintendents and other public school officials still plan to meet on Tuesday in State College for an "equity summit" to discuss a proposal for separate playoffs and a move to replace the PIAA as the governing body for high school sports in Pennsylvania.
A number of the state's 500 school districts want separate playoffs for football and girls' and boys' basketball. They argue the split is needed to account for competitive differences between boundary schools, such as traditional public schools, whose students must come from defined geographic regions, and nonboundary schools, such as charter, parochial and private schools, which can draw students from anywhere across the state or even out of state.
The PIAA action on Wednesday "is not going to change our intent for having the summit," said one of the event's organizers, Millcreek Township School District Superintendent William Hall, who said 300 representatives from 125 of the state's 500 school districts are scheduled to attend. Hall said participants will talk about the PIAA and how to improve competitiveness.
"We still feel the playoffs should be separate," Hall said.
PIAA says no to separate playoffs: The PIAA leadership has said it will not entertain a request for separate playoffs because of a 1972 state law that opened PIAA membership to nonpublic as well as public schools. A PIAA board member, Pete Iacino, of Hermitage, said the board reiterated that position on separate playoffs on Wednesday, at its summer meeting in Mechanicsburg — the same meeting at which the board approved the stricter rules for transfers as well as the competition success formula.
"We think it is a moot point because of the law," said Iacino, chair of the PIAA's District 10 Committee, which covers Erie County and the rest of Pennsylvania. "There is no need to discuss something that is unallowed under the law."
Regarding concerns about competitiveness, Iacino said the PIAA believes "tightening up some of the transfer rules is trying to address that."
He said expects the PIAA to issue a statement soon on the discussion that it should be replaced.
The PIAA's moves on Wednesday to pass the transfer rules and approve the competition success formula comes in response to a steady call for reforms among public school officials statewide. The PIAA board, which includes representatives from all 12 PIAA district committees, passed the formula after two rather than the usual three readings, showing the urgency of the situation.
The changes: On Wednesday, Iacino said, the PIAA board:
►Amended its bylaws to require students in any sport to sit out the playoffs for a year if they transfer schools any time in their high school career after playing a sport during or after 10th grade, with some exceptions in cases of special circumstances, such as a parent's employment-related move. The transfer rules are effective Aug. 6.
School districts can still challenge transfers based on athletic intent, in which a student ruled ineligible must sit out an entire year. The new transfer rules, like the current rules, "apply to any student regardless of athletic ability," Iacino said.
►Approved the adoption of the competition success formula for football and girls and boys basketball starting in 2020-21, or when the PIAA's next two-year enrollment cycle begins.
Schools must move up to a larger classification in a sport if they amass a certain number of points under the formula. Two developments must occur for the points to pile up. A school must excel in the playoffs in that sport over two consecutive seasons and the school must exceed the number of transfers the PIAA allows in that sport. Classifications are now based on enrollment alone.
No "super class:" The formula comes with a ceiling, however. The PIAA declined to create a "super class" for the most competitive schools already in the largest classifications, such as Class 6A for football, basketball and baseball.
Iacino, who also serves on the PIAA's Competition Committee, said he is among those on the PIAA board who favor the creation of a super class — Class 7A — to create a spot for the most competitive schools. But he said the PIAA board, overall, was concerned that a statewide super class would have too few teams to stage meaningful playoffs.
"The super class was dropped for now," Iacino said. He said the PIAA is likely to revisit the ideas.
Previous changes: The changes the PIAA approved on Wednesday are in addition to a number of transfer-related proposals the board enacted earlier this year and in 2017.
They include a rule, passed in December and effective April 1, that requires students who practice with one school in a sport and transfer to another school to sit out 21 days before competing for the new school. Students previously could transfer in the middle of a sports season and be ruled eligible.
Hall, the Millcreek superintendent, has supported the earlier changes as well as the rules the PIAA passed on Wednesday. But he said they are still not enough to fix what he sees as a problem of competitiveness.
"We thought that is what was going to happen," Hall said of Wednesday's PIAA action.
Next, for him, is preparing for Tuesday's summit with the other superintendents.