PIAA changes course, makes 'big move in right direction' in private-public playoff debate

(Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)

After months of conflict, the PIAA changed course and offered to meet with Laurel superintendent Leonard Rich and other public school administrators who are demanding separate playoffs for private schools.

PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi.

PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi reached out Friday and invited them to attend the PIAA competition committee meeting Nov. 14 in Mechanicsburg.

“I’m optimistic and I’m very excited,” said Rich, who’ll be accompanied by Mill Creek superintendent Bill Hall and New Castle attorney Larry Kelly. “This is a big move in the right direction.”

The invitation to meet comes a month after Rich, Hall, Kelly, Lombardi and others testified during a State Athletic Oversight Committee hearing Sept. 5 at Heinz Field. State senators and representatives on the oversight committee encouraged the two sides to work out their differences.

Administrators on Rich’s side have argued that the current PIAA playoff format is unfair because their public school districts are forced to complete against private, charter and parochial schools. They’ve demanded that the PIAA split the schools into so-called boundary and non-boundary playoffs, a move Lombardi has argued isn’t allowed under state law.

Rich and Hall were among the public school administrators who organized the PIAA Playoff Equity Summit in July in State College. There, school administrators floated the idea of leaving the PIAA if their concerns were ignored.

“The PIAA remains the best avenue for reform,” Rich said Monday. “They are the governing body. I have never been an advocate of dumping the whole thing and going nuclear. That’s the last resort, for sure. If we can get it done and stay within the current body, that’s the best thing to do.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.