High School Sports

Centre County schools question the PIAA’s new rules to even the playing field

The Philipsburg-Osceola softball team celebrates clinching the PIAA Class 3A title after beating Holy Redeemer 8-3 on June 14 at Penn State’s Beard Field. More than 300 representatives from about 150 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.
The Philipsburg-Osceola softball team celebrates clinching the PIAA Class 3A title after beating Holy Redeemer 8-3 on June 14 at Penn State’s Beard Field. More than 300 representatives from about 150 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. Centre Daily Times, file

In an effort to address growing pressure about competitive unfairness between public and private, Catholic and charter schools, the PIAA passed stricter transfer rules at its board meeting Wednesday at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

But some local public school officials don’t think the new rules will be enough to level the playing field.

Effective Aug. 6, student-athletes in grades 10-12 who transfer schools must prove hardship or be required to sit out during that year’s postseason. With protocol suspended, the motion passed 26-2 and will apply to transfers in the upcoming school year.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s board also voted for a competitive balance formula for football and basketball, which would make teams with higher numbers of transfers and continued playoff success move up a classification.

Under the new rules, transfers for academic, developmental, spiritual or social reasons do not fall under the exemption that covers moves for legal, financial, military or job changes, and those wishing to change schools for those reasons must demonstrate that the transfer was necessitated by “exceptional and unusual circumstances” and that imposing the restriction would “create a particular hardship to the student.”

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Some public school officials do not think it’s enough, even though these transfer rules are the most drastic step the PIAA has taken yet to address the competitive advantage for schools not bound by geographic boundaries seem to have when it comes to the playoffs, such as private, Catholic and charter schools.

“Is this the answer to leveling the playing field between border schools and non-border schools? If it is, it’s not enough. It’s a band-aid. It’s a deterrent but it doesn’t eliminate the problem,” Penns Valley Athletic Director Nate Althouse told the Centre Daily Times. “I don’t think it’s a measure that will even the playing fields. If this is the solution, it’s not enough.”

Penns Valley is one of three Centre County schools that have confirmed they are sending representatives next week to a meeting of public school superintendents and athletic directors to discuss the issue and the possibility of leaving the PIAA and/or creating a separate playoff system for boundary and non-boundary schools.

Bellefonte and Bald Eagle Area have also confirmed they’ll have representatives in attendance at the July 24 meeting in State College, which sources say has more than 200 representatives planning to attend.

“It’s interesting that’s it’s finally going from the complaining stage to someone actually trying to do something about it,” BEA Athletic Director Doug Dyke said. “I think they’re going to see that it’s more than just people complaining, and that it might be time to take a look at people being proactive.”

According to PIAA statistics, non-boundary schools have won 64 percent of championships in boys’ basketball from 2008-2018 school year, and 59 percent in girls’ basketball. For football, it’s split down the middle with boundary schools winning 22 championships and non-boundary winning 22.

“I believe the stats speak for themselves. It is evident that changes need to occur to address the inequities experienced by boundary (traditional) public schools within the current playoff format,” Bellefonte Superintendent Michelle Saylor said. “Personally, I would like to see a dual playoff system. I do not agree with the current suggestions for a success formula, I believe this penalizes schools and coaches that have worked long and hard to build a program that grows their talent from within their communities.”

The Bellefonte school board, at its board meeting Tuesday night, passed a resolution, calling upon the PIAA to consider a a regular season consisting of a mix of public and non-boundary school competition, but a postseason that separates the two. According to the resolution, the state could split the non-boundary schools in half (6A and 5A), and the public schools into four (1A, 2A, 3A and 4A).

Althouse said that Penns Valley, too, believes there should be a separate playoff system for schools that are bound by geographical boundaries and those that aren’t.

He said he thinks the PIAA’s tighter transfer rules are a step in the right direction, but they’ll have to wait and see how much of a difference it makes in the long term.

“If it is their solution, then it’s going to be monitored very closely, and if it’s effective, then great. And if it isn’t, then they’re willing to take the steps necessary to give all kids the opportunities they deserve,” Althouse said.

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