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Cash-strapped PIAA board discusses pay-to-play fee for state playoff qualifiers

CHRIS HARLAN
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
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The PIAA might someday charge schools a fee to compete in the state playoffs, creating an alternate source of income as the coronavirus pandemic batters its budget.

The PIAA board discussed that idea in general terms Wednesday but took no action during its online meeting. The PIAA is surviving financially, executive director Bob Lombardi said, but predicted difficult days ahead after approving a $4.8 million budget with no budget reserve.

"We were doing pretty good because we did a great job cutting back on expenses," Lombardi said. "But now going forward with the governor's edicts on crowds and people being afraid to come (to games), we're forecasting we're probably going to take a pretty good hit."

Ticket sales an issue: Postseason ticket sales are a key part of the PIAA's budget, but restrictions on crowd sizes are limiting most stadiums to 25% of capacity. Plans aren't finalized, but the PIAA anticipates allowing only 2,200 fans into Hersheypark Stadium for the football finals.

"Those percentages of capacity are very difficult to maintain and even get by," Lombardi said.

He noted that ticket prices have remained constant for almost two decades.

"We don't want to raise those ticket prices," Lombardi said. "We like it that it's cheap, so to speak, because it keeps (costs) down for students and their families."

The PIAA had to tighten its budget after winter sports were halted early and spring sports were canceled entirely.

Pay-to-play fee: During Wednesday's PIAA meeting, board president Frank Majikes brought up the potential pay-to-play fee for teams in the state playoffs. Majikes asked the 12 district chairmen whether their districts currently charge schools a similar postseason fee.

Districts 6's Bill Marshall said his district collects $100 per playoff team, and District 9's Aaron Straub said his district charges $75. District 5 chairman Paul Leonard said his district collects a participation fee for individual-sport championships.

No action was taken following the conversation, and the idea was referred back to the PIAA budget committee.

"There's nothing hard and fast here," Lombardi said. "We just wanted to have the conversation. We've never done it. I'm not sure that we want to do it."

Better than a dues increase? Lombardi noted that Ohio charges postseason fees for its qualifiers. He suggested a participation fee might be better accepted by member schools than an increase in annual dues.

"Do we want to continue to go back and whack schools for membership dues?" Lombardi asked the board. "That's not pleasurable, and our dues are probably the lowest in the country."

PIAA member high schools pay between $525 and $675 per school year as dues, amounts that were raised last school year. The cost varies by enrollment. Junior high schools pay $250. These dues are used to purchase basic catastrophic insurance coverage for the schools.

"Some school say, 'Whoa! I only sponsor four sports and the school down the street has 20. So it's not comparable,'" Lombardi said. "This (postseason fee) is a defrayed expense as you go."

Down the road: Lombardi noted that other revenue streams such as corporate sponsorships and advertising also are limited.

"We're looking down the road here," he said, "even toward the end of this year and next year. Next year could be very, very difficult if things don't change."