On Monday, PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi addressed the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee in Harrisburg to discuss the growing concern over athletic transfers, student-athlete eligibility, and school classification. For those fans who rarely pay attention to other high school sports outside of wrestling, myself included, apparently these are issues that almost all sports and classifications experience.
The Great Divide?
In the last two scholastic years, Catholic, private and public charter schools have won nine out of twelve possible state championships in boys basketball and six of twelve possible football titles. In wrestling there have only ever been 40 PIAA State Dual Team Champions crowned since the Tournament’s inception in 1999. Of the 40 State Dual Team Champions, only one Catholic, private or public charter school has ever won a State Team title: Bethlehem Catholic.
The Golden Hawks have won a total of six State Dual Team Championships in the last eight years. Despite being classified as a Class AA sized school, Bethlehem Catholic will remain competing in Class AAA through 2020, as they have been for the last four seasons.
Speaking at the Capital, Dr. Lombardi outlined steps the PIAA Executive Board has implemented, or is in the process of implementing, to help reduce the “uneven playing fields” experienced by some sports, such as boys basketball and football. It is apparently so bad that there are discussions around having a “Super Class” in sports such as football and basketball which would include the largest schools in Pennsylvania and possibly schools based on past success.
Seven main items were presented by Dr. Lombardi and included the following highlights…
To declare a student, who has competed in a sport in their 9th grade, or thereafter, and subsequently transfers to another school, and is declared eligible at the new school, ineligible for participation in the postseason (district championship tournament and thereafter) in that sport for a period of one year.
To allow a district hearing process and hardship provision to be added to the transfer rule revision. The District Committee may waive this period of ineligibility upon demonstration by the student that the transfer was necessitated by exceptional and unusual circumstances. For purposes of this provision, transfers to address academic needs and desires, or for developmental, spiritual, and/or social reasons, would not be considered exceptional and compelling circumstances. A change in residence necessitated by a change in employment by a parent may qualify.
To modify the transfer waiver request form to apply a stricter standard on why the transfer was made and asking for more information on addresses to alleviate concerns about transfers using temporary housing addresses merely to facilitate a change of schools.
In-season transfers must sit out 21 days (from the first day of attendance not enrollment) to allow districts more time to investigate transfers. This change also includes a provision barring a student who transfers after a season has begun from further participation during that season if that student was eligible and available to participate in 50 percent of the number of competitions allowed per sport.
Where Wrestling Fits In
The focus of Monday’s testimony was, without a doubt, headlined by boys basketball and football, but could have effects on every other sport contested in the Keystone State. So what does this all mean for Wrestling? Not a whole lot. The whole discussion is vague and up for interpretation at this juncture.
A wrestler, transferring to a new school after starting the 9th grade, could potentially be penalized if it is found that no unusual or extreme circumstances were present. An easy remedy for this is to transfer or move into a school district prior to 9th grade. It also fails to address the issue of Catholic, private, and charter schools having a pool of student athletes that is virtually endless in terms of geographic location. That rule goes back to 1972 when Rule 219 was enacted. It states, “Private schools shall be permitted, if otherwise qualified, to be members of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.” It is unlikely that a reverse of Rule 219 will take place in the near future according to Dr. Lombardi.
The biggest changes Wrestling could see were presented in the PIAA’s May Board of Directors meeting and they don’t include eligibility or transfers. The PIAA unanimously approved the recommendations of the PIAA Wrestling Steering Committee to:
1) Assign 50% of the total prestige points for state finishers from other State Championships or the
National Prep tournament who have transferred to a PIAA member school.
2) Amend the maximum number of AA qualifiers and AAA qualifiers.
3) Utilize and study data provided by NWCA and Trackwrestling to evaluate the possibility of
reducing the number of weight classes to twelve.
The most intriguing point is #3 where the number of weight classes could be reduced from 14 to 12. The PIAA board is set to convene next on July 18th in State College where additional changes could be enacted.