Powerhouse Pa. football program vows to fight PIAA over forced move up to Class 5-A

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
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Aliquippa's victory against Jersey Shore in the PIAA Class 4-A semifinals earned the Quips a ticket to Hershey for a state championship game.

But the win also earned Aliquippa something that the Quips think is unfair — and that's a move up to Class 5-A next year.

Under the PIAA's competitive balance rule that was instituted a few years ago, it is now official that Aliquippa will be forced to move up one classification for the 2022-23 seasons. The rule was designed to address the issue of teams that are highly successful with transfer students on the team. Under the rule, teams that go far in the postseason two years in a row, and also have at least three transfer students during a two-year period will be bumped up one classification.

But there is a lot that goes into the Aliquippa classification backstory. For the competitive balance rule, the PIAA uses a "competitive classification formula," where "success" points are earned for going far in the postseason. Making the PIAA quarterfinals earns a team two points, the semifinals three and the PIAA championship game four. Accumulating six points across two years and also having three transfers bumps a team up in classification for the next two-year cycle.

The rule can be confusing to some, but it's upsetting to Aliquippa. Why? Because the PIAA bases classifications on school enrollments and Aliquippa's enrollment actually places the Quips in Class 1-A. They voluntarily play "up" in classification. They had played 3-A from 2016-19 , but were bumped up to 4-A for the past two seasons under the new rule because they accumulated six success points in 2018-19 and also had at least three transfers.

So while Aliquippa gets ready to play for the a state championship Thursday night against Bishop McDevitt of Harrisburg, the Quips also are getting ready to appeal their classification case to the PIAA at some point in the near future.

"Unequivocally, we will be appealing," said Phillip Woods, superintendent of the Aliquippa School District. "I bet there is not a school in the country that is forced to play up four classes from where it should be."

The PIAA realigns sports classifications every two years. According to the latest PIAA figures for the most recent two-year cycle, Aliquippa had 117 boys in grades 9-11, which would put the Quips in Class 1-A. To give you an idea of what Aliquippa would be going against in Class 5-A, consider that Penn-Trafford is a WPIAL school that has made it to the 5-A state championship. According to the PIAA's most recent figures, Penn-Trafford had 517 boys in grades 9-11.

Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield has been very critical of the PIAA in this new rule, but PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi confirmed earlier this fall that the Quips would be in 5-A if they made the PIAA title game, but the school could appeal. At a PIAA board of directors meeting this fall, Lombardi was asked about Aliquippa's situation and said the Quips winning proves they are right where they should be in terms of classification.

But Woods contends the PIAA should've included some language in the original competitive balance rule that makes exceptions for teams already playing up in class.

"I watched the WPIAL 5-A championship (between Moon and Penn-Trafford). They had more players on each team than I have in half of my high school," Woods said. "The rule was tainted from the beginning. We never should've been bumped up in the first place because we already had agreed to play in 3-A."

But the PIAA competitive balance rules do clearly state that teams are moved up from their most recent classification, and not from the classification that matches their enrollment.

When asked what classification he believes Aliquippa should play in next year, Woods said 3-A.

"Common sense needs to take over," Woods said. "We're not afraid of competition or a challenge, but we want to do it with being reasonable. ... People that make policies and rules, when those rules are found to be unjust, that's when an amendment needs to come. This is a prime opportunity to make a correction for something that is unjust."

Woods even went as far as saying Aliquippa would consider leaving the WPIAL and PIAA if the team is forced to play Class 5-A next season. That would be a brash move that would certainly be controversial.

"In the end, a decision will be made and we'll all come to some understanding," Woods said.

Others facing possible moves: Aliquippa isn't the only school that faces being bumped up in classification next year. Now that the participants are known for the PIAA championships, success points are also known for all teams over the past two years. Bishop Guilfoyle (Class 1-A), Redbank Valley (1-A), Southern Columbia (2-A), Central Valley (3-A), Wyomissing (3-A), Jersey Shore (4-A) and Cathedral Prep (5-A) all earned at least six success points, which means they will be bumped up in classification, but only if they also had three transfer students on the team the past two years. The PIAA will not reveal yet if the teams had at least three transfers.

But Central Valley already is moving up to 4-A next because of its enrollment.

The PIAA board of directors has a meeting Wednesday and the league should release classifications for all sports teams at all Pennsylvania schools later in the week.