Gene

State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, chair of the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee.

HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association is trudging toward reform on controversial issues of competitive balance.

The outline was laid out at a hearing of the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee at the State Capitol Monday.

The reaction seemed to be broad, general approval.

“I think we’re off to a good start,’’ said State Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster), a member of the committee.

“The PIAA, the Catholic schools and the charter schools obviously all kind of agree on the direction we’re headed.’’

“I think it was what it was supposed to be, information and an update,’’ PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi said of the session.

“We continue to believe the key issue is the transfers.’’

The committee heard testimony from Lombardi, Pennsylvania Catholic Conference Director of Education Sean McAleer and, representing charter schools, Mike Bariski, basketball coach and athletic director at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Academy.

PIAA formed a competition committee last year to discuss issues and propose changes in the areas of competitive balance, recruiting and transfers.

That committee’s proposals, now at varying stages of the adoption process, include:

*A dramatic tightening of the approval process for transfers, including a modified transfer request form, more documentation of changes of residence, a 21-day sit-out period for in-season transfers, a portal on the PIAA website that will host all requests for athletic eligibility and a rule that all transfers after ninth grade will be ineligible for postseason play for one year.

*A formal rejection of the private/public distinction and even the boundary/non-boundary distinction. The new terms are traditional schools (“where students attend by virtue of their geographic residence,’’ according to Lombardi’s testimony) and schools of choice (“where students attend based upon their educational needs, religion, gender, legacy or technology,’’).

*A new method of classifying schools for postseason play that will include enrollment, a “success factor,’’ and a formula for factoring in the number of athletic transfers on a team.

*Also in the pipeline, although it seems at the embryonic stage, is a “Super Class,’’ for elite powers in football and basketball.

McAleer and Bariski said their organizations support the above reforms in principle.

Both suggested that the athletic transfer process could be cleaned up without reform, if the administrators and district committees charged with monitoring transfers took their responsibilities more seriously.

“(We) know of one district that holds a hearing for every private school incoming transfer regardless if the principals sign off or not,’’ McAleer said.

“The same district allows most private or public-to-public transfers to go through without a hearing. This is unfair, but since private schools are the minority, we simply let it go.’’

Bariski suggested a board to handle transfer hearings at the state level to eliminate the disparities in district committees.

“I’m not sure that’s possible,’’ Lombardi said after the meeting. “I know of at least one district committee that handles 300 transfers a year.’’

There are 12 PIAA districts.

“I disagree with (Bariski) on that,’’ Lombardi said. “It’s easy to point at someone, but unless you’re been in the room, heard the testimony, you don’t know.’’

The Athletic Oversight Committee has no formal role or voting power within PIAA, although its members have met with the relevant parties privately in recent months.

Martin said the committee will likely hold another hearing this summer, at which public school athletic directors and superintendents could get a chance to testify.

The PIAA Competition Committee will meet twice before its Board of Directors meets, and could vote on some of the above, in July.

Lombardi asked the oversight committee to petition the Pennsylvania Gaming Board to exclude high school sports from gambling, when sports gambling becomes legal in the Commonwealth.

Three members of the committee said they would do so.

“As the author of the original sports betting legislation, I’ll tell you that was not our intent to (include) interscholastic athletics,” Rep. Robert Matzie (D-Ambridge) said.

“If that’s something we need to do legislatively, or if it’s as simple as making our thoughts known to the gaming control board, I’d be happy to do that.”