Despite new state law, PIAA says no extra sports eligibility for students who repeat grade

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Bob Lombardi

Gov. Tom Wolf recently passed a law that allows students in Pennsylvania to voluntarily repeat a grade in school this year because of lost educational opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents have until Thursday to inform a school if their child intends to repeat a grade.

But the new law (Act 66) does not grant extra eligibility for high school sports — and the PIAA is emphatic that an extra year will not be given to student-athletes.

"The feeling among our board of directors is they are against redshirting for athletics, which is essentially what this could be," PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. "One of the other reasons is our board didn't feel [another year of eligibility] is necessary is because we got all of our sports seasons in the last school year."

Under Act 66, parents can have their child repeat a grade even if they met educational requirements to be advanced to the next grade. Lombardi sent an email to all PIAA board of directors Monday informing them of the new law and that there will be no extra year of athletic eligibility. This was done in hopes that the directors inform their schools around the state about the eligibility facts.

The PIAA board of directors meets Wednesday and Lombardi said the new law will be discussed. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has a section on its web site answering questions about Act 66 and says an extra year of sports eligibility is not provided. It also references the PIAA rule on years of eligibility.

"We all need to talk about this because people have had questions," Lombardi said. "We're all trying to work together on getting information out. I would hope people would use discretion (on repeating a grade), because this doesn't allow redshirting for athletics. That's what's important."

The rule in question: The PIAA rule concerning years of eligibility and "period of participation" can be confusing to some parents. The rules state:

►A student-athlete is ineligible if they "reached the end of the student's fourth consecutive year (eighth consecutive semester or equivalent) beyond the eighth grade year."

In other words, student athletes get only four "years" to play after eighth grade, regardless if they played all four years or not, and regardless if they repeated a grade. So if someone doesn't play a sport as a freshman or sophomore, for whatever reason, they still have only two years eligibility remaining, even if they repeat a grade.

►A student-athlete gets only six "seasons" to participate beyond the sixth grade. This is a little different language than the "four-year" rule after eighth grade. The six seasons part of the rule deals with seventh- and eighth-grade (junior high) sports. If an athlete played a sport in seventh and eighth grade, then the athlete obviously has only four seasons left to play in high school.

But, say, an athlete played football in seventh grade and eighth grade, but repeated eighth grade. As long as the athlete didn't play football while repeating eighth grade, he would still have four seasons of eligibility after eighth grade.

But if the athlete played junior-high football while repeating eighth grade, he would then have only three seasons left of eligibility.

►No student is eligible for sports if they turn age 19 before July 1 of any year in high school.