PIAA doesn’t get it

EDITOR’S NOTE: All quotations in this column are from PIAA Executive Director Robert Lombardi’s email sent to Chris Masse on Wednesday afternoon.

So the PIAA is mad at me. In the ultimate irony, it also accuses me of doing PIAA athletes and schools a disservice.

Seriously. It actually said that. An association that every year does public school athletes and schools a disservice by having hypocritical and inconsistent rules said I provide the disservice.

I received an email from PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi Wednesday afternoon following publication of Monday’s Sun-Gazette column in which I pushed for the PIAA to change its unfair practices.

“We understand your opinion, but to offer a misinterpretation of PIAA by-laws that has an impact upon our schools, their students and their communities is damaging to our association and the general public and we are requesting a correction.

“The issue at hand is your interpretation of the 75 percent rules as a by-law that impacts transfer students and that is factually incorrect. You indicate that academics are the only reason that is permitted for a transfer to be approved under our rules. This statement is also incorrect. There are many reasons that are acceptable for a student to transfer other than academics and many are listed in our by-laws.

“The 75 percent rule is a rule that was put into place to address students that participate on an out of school team that same time they are a member of their school team and forgo school competition until postseason so they can garner accolades. This rule has nothing to do with a student that transferred from another state back to Philadelphia where they started as a student.”

Ok, a few things.

No. 1 — I apologize for misinterpreting the 75 percent rule. As a journalist it is my job to make sure I have the facts right and I did not when it came to writing about this rule. Shame on me.

No. 2 — While I did imply that academics are the specific reason for a transfer and take responsibility for that, it does not change my point which is, transfers are not permitted for sports reasons. The PIAA can accept all the excuses they want, but it is living in Fantasy Land if it believes so many athletes attending private/charter/magnet schools are there for reasons other than sports. For that matter, it must think the Easter Bunny is real if it believes public school students are not also transferring for sports reasons.

No. 3 — Just because I misinterpreted the rule does not make the rule right.

A popular topic throughout the state right now is new Neumann Goretti point guard Diamond Johnson. As mentioned in Monday’s column, Johnson is a sophomore who was averaging 33 points through 19 games with Phoebus, Virginia, before transferring to Neumann-Goretti, a three-time defending state champion and that will play for a fourth next week. She arrived right before the playoffs and has competed in every state tournament game which the Saints have easily won.

I erred in saying that the 75 percent rule should have prohibited Johnson from competing for Neumann-Goretti. I apologize again for that. However, that a school is allowed to play an athlete so late in the season who arrived from a different school speaks to everything that is wrong with the PIAA.

Here is what Lombardi had to say about the situation.

“In this instant, the student was not immediately eligible and the schools exchanged the required athletic transfer waiver request form which was signed off by both schools’ principals independently of each other. Further, the local district committee upon receiving this information, instructed the school to not allow the student to play in games until they had a hearing to vette the situation. After a period of almost three weeks, the hearing was properly held and the student upon their testimony along with that of the school and family was determined to be eligible under PIAA rules. This is PIAA documented correct and the proper due process procedure was stipulated by the PIAA policy and procedures.

“We understand you disagree with the decision and that is your prerogative. However, you did all of our schools, our association and the general public a disservice by misinterpreting our rules.”

I did the schools and the public a disservice? Sir, look in the mirror.

At the risk of repeating myself, why has your organization failed to address the so many issues that have multiplied nearly yearly since Catholic/private schools were brought into the PIAA in 1972? Why does your association have one set of rules for the private/charter/magnet schools that highly favor them and one that puts public schools at a big disadvantage? Why can private/charter/magnet schools field players from anywhere in the world while publics are restricted to just their school district boundaries?

Why can these schools that field players from such vast areas still compete in smaller classifications, while schools that co-op simply so they have a sports team are forced to play up? Why are the numbers of all the districts involved in those co-ops counted against public schools, forcing them to play higher, but not counted against the privates who pull from such bigger regions?

Peter Jackson of The Associated Press quoted a PIAA official a few years ago saying the following.

“From a competitive standpoint, charter schools have made obsolete any realistic competition with traditional public schools.”

Who said that? You guessed it, Dr. Bob Lombardi when he was addressing a special legislative panel.

The ironic part is state Rep. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, told Fox Sports Williamsport general manager Todd Bartley that the PIAA holds the power.

If the legislature holds the power, why have you not gone to them relentlessly and highly publicly and demanded an end to these unfair and hypocritical rules?

If the PIAA holds the power why has nothing changed?

The bottom line, no matter what excuses the PIAA makes, is that things could change. You could get the ball rolling and do all those public school athletes and schools that you allegedly care so much about a great service.

I did misinterpret a rule and am deeply sorry about that. I failed in that regard and I take responsibility. But the issue here is not misinterpreting your rules. The issue here is your rules, period.

So how dare you, sir. How dare you accuse me of doing athletes a disservice. How dare you accuse me of that and yet gloss over the heart of the column and ignore the serious issues mentioned.

Go to a public school that has fantastic student-athletes who put every fiber of their being into becoming the best they can be. Go tell those athletes after they lose a game to a team stacked with Division I prospects — or a team that has players from multiple states, multiple communities or multiple countries — that you are doing them a service. Go into the locker room of a public school team, especially the smaller ones, and look athletes in their tearful eyes after they lost a playoff game, not because they did not try enough or believe enough, but because the cards were stacked incredibly high against them. Tell those hard-working players that your system promotes fairness and provides them a service. I dare you.

Somebody has to fight for what is right. Someone has to stand up for fairness among every school in your association. Someone has to fight for a consistent set of rules that is all for one and one for all.

The PIAA certainly has not.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse

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