Dallastown athletic director Vince Sortino wants a level playing field for athletes in public schools.
But not at the cost of allowing students to transfer freely, which would happen if a state bill proposed Tuesday is approved.
“It doesn’t make sense. It was not well thought out,” Sortino said. “I think they hurried through a process. They probably should have worked closer with the PIAA.”
Sortino wasn’t alone in his concern over what the ramifications would be if the Parity in Interscholastic Athletics act is passed.
The PIAA quickly released a statement expressing its opposition to the bill on Tuesday.
Red Lion athletic director Arnie Fritzius added that he wasn’t sure if the bill solved the current issues or created more.
“I am still a little unclear of what that group is trying to do,” Fritzius said. “It looks like their intent is to separate public and private schools, but it doesn’t look like they are dealing with the issue of charter schools. I am not sure what the motive behind this group is and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to solve something they perceive as a problem.”
The group Fritzius referred to included state Rep. Aaron Bernstine, a Republican from western Pennsylvania; Eric Failing, executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference; and Bill Hall and Leonard Rich, the co-state coordinators of the Pennsylvania Athletic Equity Steering Committee.
Issues with transfer rule: The biggest point of contention that Sortino and Fritzius had with the proposal was the elimination of the transfer rule. If passed, the bill would allow players to transfer to any school, for any reason, provided the team had not played 50 percent of its games.
“It’s not fair,” Sortino said. “You’re going to recruit kids from my school and then I have to play you in this so-called ultimate championship game? It’s open recruiting. You’re setting up superpower schools.”
Fritzius said that eliminating the transfer rule is something he would be “uncomfortable” with.
Both ADs also agreed that the elimination of the transfer rule could lead to club teams and shoe companies playing a part in which schools kids go to.
“These AAU programs are trying to take control,” Sortino said. “Now you’re giving more advantages, more power to those AAU programs and coaches that constantly recruit to create powerhouse schools."
Sortino said that's unfair to the public schools.
York Catholic athletic director and girls’ basketball coach Kevin Bankos declined to comment on the proposal except to say, in a text message, that his school would “follow the new guidelines just like we have followed the current guidelines” if it was approved.
Several other athletic directors and coaches either declined to comment or did not respond to messages.
Separate state playoffs: Under the proposed bill, private schools and public schools would have separate state playoffs before the respective champions played in a final game. The sports that would initially operate under these rules are baseball, boys' and girls' basketball, football, girls’ volleyball, boys' and girls' soccer and softball.
Both Sortino and Fritzius said that creating two state playoff tournaments would dilute the meaning of reaching the playoffs and winning a state title.
“It’s almost like the 'every-kid-gets-a-trophy mentality,'” Sortino said. “Everyone is going to make the playoffs. What happened to working hard? What happened to putting in the extra work? Not everything is going to be handed to you, and when you can’t make the playoffs, we change the rules so teams can get into the playoffs. Life doesn’t work that way. Life isn’t going to change the rules for you.”
Focus on academics: Sortino also expressed concern about creating more games and the impact it would have on the students, who everyone involved with the bill said was the top priority.
“Our No. 1 concern should be education,” Sortino said. “These kids already miss a lot of school because of athletics. By extending these seasons, it takes these kids out of the classroom even more than they are. The reason they’re in high school is to get an education.”
Neither Sortino nor Fritzius felt like there was a need for separate state playoff brackets and feared creating a system where parents are sending their children to schools based solely on the program’s athletics, regardless of its academics.
“As long as kids are going to the schools and there’s not athletic intent (in their decision), then let the chips fall where they fall,” Fritzius said. “If there is athletic intent, then I think that changes the face of what high school athletics is supposed to be all about.”
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.