Centre County high schools join nearly 150 others to ‘address the inequity’ of the PIAA

Penns Valley Athletic Director Nate Althouse shares his thoughts on the PIAA Playoff Equity Summit

Penns Valley Athletic Director Nate Althouse speaks about the Equity Summit and discusses boundary schools vs non-boundary schools during the PIAA Playoff Equity Summit Tuesday, July 24, 2018 at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center.
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Penns Valley Athletic Director Nate Althouse speaks about the Equity Summit and discusses boundary schools vs non-boundary schools during the PIAA Playoff Equity Summit Tuesday, July 24, 2018 at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center.

More than 200 representatives from 147 school districts requested an overhaul of the current Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association playoff format because of the “uneven” playing field between boundary and non-boundary schools.

At least five Centre County school districts — Bellefonte, Penns Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola, Bald Eagle Area and State College Area — attended the meeting at the Ramada Conference Center on Tuesday, which was in response to the transfer rules that were passed by the PIAA on July 18.

The rules mandate that student-athletes in grades 10-12 who transfer must demonstrate the move was necessitated by “exceptional and unusual circumstances” or be required to sit out during that year’s postseason.

The PIAA also passed a competitive balance formula for football and basketball, which would require teams with higher numbers of transfer and continued playoff success to move up a classification.

“We are requesting and expecting that the PIAA immediately address the inequity that exists in the current district and state playoff structure,” a memo to the PIAA and the Assembly Oversight Committee said. “Under current criteria, boundary (traditional public) schools are forced to compete against non-boundary (private, parochial and charter) schools. Our data and survey results confirm that non-boundary schools have dominated public schools during PIAA playoff competition while claiming a disappropriate number of state titles as well.”

The aforementioned data found that 87 non-boundary schools have won 444 PIAA championships from the 1972-73 season through 2017-18, an average of 5.1 championships per school. More than half of those championship, 234, have been won by 19 non-boundary schools.

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The representatives also outlined eight of their beliefs.

  • The PIAA can and must implement a playoff structure that will re-establish fair and equitable competition for all traditional public school student-athletes.
  • A separate playoff structure between boundary and non-boundary schools will significantly improve the current inequity that exists during PIAA playoff competition.
  • Regular season schedules can continues as is with crossover games involving traditional and non-boundary schools.
  • The recent PIAA proposal regarding athletic transfers will also improve the issue of playoff imbalance.
  • The recent PIAA proposal regarding a “competition classification formula” falls short in addressing the issue.
  • This is not a legislative issue as we do not support excluding any non-boundary schools from PIAA playoff competition.
  • The separate playoff structure can be established by the start of the 2019-20 football and basketball seasons with one of the proposed scenarios.

The first scenario is to create a seventh classification of non-boundary schools who would play each other in the PIAA playoffs. The classification could be divided into two subdivisions with the “competition formula” being used to dictate subdivision status for a school’s two-year cycle.

The second scenario is to revert to the previous four classifications for boundary schools and use the fifth and sixth classifications for non-boundary schools.

A “nuclear solution” was also discussed, which explored the possibility of breaking from the PIAA if the organization is not receptive to potential alternatives.

Bellefonte School District Superintendent Michelle Saylor and Penns Valley High School Athletic Director Nate Althouse were among the 207 representatives to be polled about the relationship between boundary and non-boundary schools.

“The proposed (PIAA) system still leaves much to be desired and does little to address equity. Even if a non-boundary school were forced to ‘play-up’ one section, the result would still be inequity,” Saylor said. “Statistically, non-boundary schools have many more D-I players (regardless of the school’s classification) than boundary schools. All this proposal did is push the problem up one more level. The only fair solution is a separate playoff system.”

Althouse agreed with Saylor and said the only viable solution is separate championships.

“Boundary schools are limited to choosing from the population living within the district confines. A non-boundary school has access to countless athletes and has the ability to recruit those athletes away from border schools,” Althouse said. “You have the statistics and percentages of how many schools in the Commonwealth are border and non-border. There is a discrepancy between that ratio and the ratio of championships.

“Or, if you look closer,” Althouse added, “look at the participation in the state tournaments and the teams that make deep runs. Look at the semifinalists, not just champions. There is no formula to calculate the appropriate classification for non-border schools.”

Althouse also said the representatives plan to approach the Oversight Committee with their consensus so the PIAA can directly hear their requests.