Editorial

The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

We have long lamented the unfairness of high school athletic rules in Pennsylvania that pit public schools against private and religious schools that have built-in advantages.

There’s a new bill in Harrisburg aiming to address that situation, but it might create new problems and fail to address all of the previous ones.

The so-called Parity in Interscholastic Athletics Act is the work of state Rep. Aaron Bernstine and others. According to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bernstine, a Republican who represents parts of Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, wants to force the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletics Association, which governs high school sports in the state, to hold separate postseason tournaments for public schools and private/Catholic schools in eight sports: football, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball, baseball and softball.

The main gripe about public schools having to compete with private/religious schools is that public schools are confined to using athletes from within district borders, while private and Catholic schools can gather athletes from pretty much anywhere, even siphoning them off from those same public schools. In basketball, for example, the private/Catholic schools have been dominant.

But Bernstine’s bill fails to include charter schools with the private and religious schools that would have their own championship tournaments. We’re not sure why. It really makes no sense, because those charter schools have the same built-in advantages as the private institutions.

The legislation also went out on a whole different limb by proposing to do away with the PIAA transfer rule, which bars students from transferring to another school for athletic intent.

What this means, for example, is that if a player from Penn Hills wanted to transfer and play basketball at Woodland Hills, he or she would be free to do so, no questions asked, so long as he or she was living with a parent or guardian in the new district.

What this would create is a situation where less talented teams will suffer, and powerhouse teams will get richer. For example, let’s say that tiny Avella High School has a great quarterback but little in the way of talent around him. We’d think that quarterback might be more than a little tempted to go to another area school that has a stocked team but a need for a top player behind center. Avella’s team would get worse, and the already stocked team would improve that much more.

Of course, we’ve already seen many situations where the organization that rides herd on high school sports in these parts, the WPIAL, has ruled that a player has transferred for athletic intent, and is thus ineligible, only to have the PIAA take the case on appeal and overturn the verdict.

Bernstine said at a news conference Tuesday in Harrisburg that he believes the House will pass his bill and “expects the Senate to do their job.”

But if the reaction of the PIAA is any indication, he might be facing more of an uphill battle than he thinks.

In a statement, the PIAA said, “The elimination of the transfer rule would expose Pennsylvania athletes and schools to the chaos that has resulted in those states which have done so. ... AAU teams, shoe companies and other third parties promote consolidation of top athletes at ‘preferred’ schools, which results in powerhouses where schools simply reload each year with high-profile athletes.”

Though we still believe in separate championships for public schools and private/Catholic schools, we agree with the PIAA that doing away with the transfer rule would be a big mistake.

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