Pa. proposal separates playoff bracket for public and private high school sports

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MERCER COUNTY, Pa. (WKBN) – A new proposal out of Harrisburg could bring some big changes for high school sports in Pennsylvania.

Republican State Representative Aaron Bernstine, who serves parts of Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, said parents and schools have reached out to him for years about high school sports, stating that the current system is unfair. 

“Our focus has really been, since the very beginning, bringing people together. We had conversations and meetings with folks from both the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference as well as the public schools. We wanted to involve them in the process and those are the real stakeholders here,” said Bernstine.

Private schools have the appearance of an advantage when it comes to attracting the best players. That can lead to resentment in the playoffs. 

“There have been more arguments over high school athletics in this state than anyone can recall,” said Eric Failing from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.

Bernstine is trying to put an end to it with the introduction of House Bill 1600, the “Party in Interscholastic Athletics Act.”

“This bill is equally centered and focuses on students and student athletics from public and private schools across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Bernstine said.

The bill would create separate playoff brackets for the PIAA playoffs. Currently, both public and private schools compete for a state championship.

This would make it so public schools compete against each other and private schools do the same. Those two teams would then play each other in a final championship game. 

“It would certainly diffuse all of the controversy that takes place every year,” said Vince Cardamon, acting president of Kennedy Catholic. 

The bill would also eliminate the “transfer rule,” making students immediately eligible to play as soon as they transfer schools if they meet other requirements. 

“Some of these stories I have heard about students that are unable to participate in a sport are sickening,” Bernstine said.

HB 1600 takes measures to protect Catholic and private schools that are shut out of regular season play. If a team forfeits two or more games in a season, they would not be eligible to participate in the PIAA playoffs. 

“We’ve had some issues, there are some schools that just didn’t want to play ours. Let’s stop arguing about kids sports. These kids want to go out, they want to have a good time,” Failing said.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) sent a letter opposing the changes on Tuesday. 

In the statement, PIAA said: 

The Board of Directors, after studying the issue, does not believe creating segregated public/private classifications and/or tournaments is the answer. There are numerous reasons for this. This proposal of having 18% of private schools being guaranteed 50% of the championship entries promotes inequities in post-season opportunities. Extending sports seasons to host an additional tournament of champions between private and public schools serves no educational purpose. This would cause scheduling issues, would be detrimental to the health and safety of student-athletes and their possible participation in subsequent sport seasons. 

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. It requires little research to see what has happened in states that permit open transfers. AAU teams, shoe companies and other third parties promote consolidation of top athletes at “preferred” schools, which result in powerhouses where schools simply reload each year with high profile athletes. 

Bernstine said the PIAA was invited to discuss the bill, but they did not take part. 

“They are bound by Pennsylvania statute, and that has previously been what their position has been, and I’m sure we’ll move on from that.”

Lawmakers could not predict when the legislation would be acted on, but they hope the bill would move quickly. 

If it passes, it would go into effect 60 days after signed. 

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