PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Superintendents, coaches and athletic directors from public school districts around the state are drawing a line in the sand: change the rules for high school sports playoffs or we’ll quit.
That message came out of a so-called “Equity Summit” in State College on Tuesday. More than 200 representatives from more than 150 public school districts met to discuss their unhappiness with the current high school playoff system administered by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
The PIAA sets rules and policies that govern secondary school athletics statewide.
Those attending the summit say they believe so-called “non-boundary” high schools, private, parochial and charter schools, have an unfair advantage over “boundary” or public schools because non-boundary schools can recruit players from anywhere, while public schools teams can be made up only of those players who live in their school district. Attendees say the non-boundary schools’ ability to recruit the best players has resulted in those schools winning a disproportionate number of state championships.
“This is about fairness. Although it’s in the context of athletics we’re trying to do what’s best for the kids,” said Superintendent Leonard Rich of the Laurel School District in Lawrence County. “The current system is a disservice to kids and I can’t stand it.”
Rich was one of dozens of officials from the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League in attendance at the summit. The WPIAL represents athletic programs in schools in Allegheny and 9 surrounding counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, and is a member of the PIAA.
The WPIAL started the ball rolling on the issue of playoff inequity, especially for football and basketball, when they petitioned the PIAA for a separate playoff system for boundary and non-boundary schools last year.
So far the PIAA has resisted the idea of separate playoffs, saying it would violate state law, which attendees at today’s meeting dispute. PIAA leaders also believe the situation will improve on its own when new rules take effect that make it harder for athletes to transfer schools. The rule changes could also move successful non-boundary schools into higher classifications where they would face tougher competition.
School representatives at today’s summit say that’s not enough to change the current situation where a small number of non-boundary schools are winning the majority of state championships. They voted by show of hands to send the PIAA a proposal that would group non-boundary schools in classes 5A and 6A for football and basketball playoffs, while public or “boundary” schools would play separately in classes 1A-4A.
“If you think about this, you understand that 82 percent of the membership is willing to settle for 67 percent of the championships,” said Rich, referring to the percentage of public schools represented in the PIAA. “I think that’s fair and equitable, far more equitable than the situation we have today where 18 percent of the membership is winning between 60 and 75 percent of the championships if you look at the past 5 to 7 years,” referring to non-boundary schools’ recent success. “I think it would enhance competition,” said Rich. “The bottom line is we are creating a platform of fairness for competition.”
While the group didn’t vote on leaving the PIAA if they don’t get their way, they did discuss the possibility.
“It’s our hope we can work with the PIAA for reform but reform must happen,” stated Superintendent Rich. “We’re not asking, we’re showing a pathway and expecting something to be done.”