To facilitate parochial schools joining the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state legislature voted into law the following amendment to the Public School Code, Pa. Act 219, in 1972:
“Private schools shall be permitted, if otherwise qualified, to be members of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.”
The playing field that sentence created, it is now axiomatic, is an unlevel, unfair one, on the assumption that the lack of geographic boundaries is a decisive advantage in accumulating athletic talent.
The now-broadly-accepted solution is separate state playoffs for public and private schools.
The PIAA has for years been told, by the legislature, via its Athletic Oversight Committee, that Act 219 prohibits such separation.
If you were a legislator, and you wanted something to happen that state law has heretofore prohibited, what would you do?
How about remove the prohibition?
How about something like the following addition to Act 219: “This amendment does not prohibit PIAA from creating any postseason structure or format, provided it is approved by vote of the PIAA Board of Directors.’’
Nah. Too simple and too hard.
Since February, there have been three proposals for new laws centered on playoff separation. All three tell the PIAA what it shall do, rather than what it may do. They’re all considerably longer than one sentence.
The latest and highest-profile of these was introduced last week with a press conference at the State Capitol.
Titled the Parity in Interscholastic Athletic Act (ironic acronym: PIAA), it is the result of negotiations between State Rep. Aaron Bernstine, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pa. Athletic Equity Steering Committee, which represents many public school administrators.
It would mandate separate public and private playoffs in eight sports - football, boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ soccer, baseball, softball and girls’ volleyball - and tack a public vs. private “Super Bowl,’’ on the end of each season.
Charter schools would be considered publics, even though in terms of this law’s purpose, charters have more in common with privates than traditional publics.
“By law they have to be included (with publics),’’ said Leonard Rich of the Equity Committee. “According to the school code, they are public schools.’’
But this is a change to the school code. So was Act 219 of 1972; parochial schools weren’t covered by the athletic portion of the school code, and then they were.
(Also, that sentence I made up eight paragraphs ago would erase the problem.)
In the past, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference had been as vehemently opposed to separate playoffs as possible.
But PCC Executive Director Eric Failing admitted at the press conference, “the Bishops were very, very clear. They didn’t want to be left out of any issue, … (they said) go out and find common ground.
“This legislation will offer Catholic schools several advantages and protections.”
Speaking of which, the bill would eliminate the PIAA’s transfer rule, which makes transfers after 10th grade ineligible for the postseason (district playoffs and beyond) for one year from the date of transfer.
The bill would allow PIAA to restrict transfers after 50 percent of a sport’s regular season games have been played.
Failing called the current transfer rule, “very restrictive.’’ Rich said it’s “inconsistently enforced,’’ although it has existed for less than a year.
In that year, it eliminated Philadelphia Roman Catholic basketball star Lynn Greer from the postseason, perhaps impacting the state Class 6A championship. It would also have denied several high-profile transfers of the recent past, such as that of current Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and girls’ basketball star Diamond Johnson, who transferred from Virginia to Philadelphia Neumann Goretti just before the 2017 postseason.
When the Equity Committee began its campaign for reform about a year ago, these kinds of transfers were central to their complaint. Than again, so was recruiting by charter schools.
It’s easy to see what the Catholic schools would gain from this law: lax restrictions on the transfers and lots and lots and lots of state playoff berths.
What the public schools gained is harder to ascertain.
Separate playoffs aren’t a bad thing. This law isn’t a bad thing, and its creators aren’t bad people with bad intent. But, again, its creators could simply have freed the governing body to do its job. They could have given autonomy instead of taking it away. Taking autonomy away is a decent working definition of government overreach.
They have no problem giving the governing body homework.
The legislation does not apply to district or league play, so that structure could be unchanged. But state playoffs must include, “an equal number of public and nonpublic schools.’’
There are 718 PIAA member schools that field boys’ basketball teams. Of those, 96, or 13 percent, are private schools.
If the private state tournament bracket must be the same size as the public one, some private schools that didn’t even qualify for districts will qualify for states. Will the current six-class format for districts and states be retained? How would that work, given that nearly half of private schools are in Class A, the smallest class?
Inevitably, this means twice as many state playoff games in the eight affected sports. It means doubling the job of scheduling, seeding, finding venues, officials, game staff, etc., etc.
“That component will be up to the PIAA to figure out,’’ Bernstine said.
I’m sure the PIAA appreciates that.