PIAA’s problem worsening

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Loyalsock’s Anthony Pastore, left, and Trinity’s Mike Scarpelli congratulate each other after Saturday’s PIAA playoff game at Martz Hall in Pottsville.

Nearly every year, I write a column saying how desperately the PIAA needs changed.

But obviously, that does no good. I am one person, a lowly journalist at that. What is needed is big-time involvement and a grassroots push.

First, a recap. The PIAA has two sets of rules. One that public schools must strictly follow, meaning they can only field players from their school district. Then there is a second set of rules for private/charter schools.

Those rules essentially are that there are no rules.

Those schools can literally field players from anywhere in the world. Many can stay in the small-school classifications as well. This is hypocrisy at its finest since teams that co-op in football like little CMVT, Cowanesque Valley and North Penn-Mansfield must play up at bigger levels because they pull kids from multiple schools. Meanwhile, the Neumann-Gorettis, Constitutions and Math Civics and Sciences and Imhoteps of the world, to name a few, field all-star teams that could probably challenge many Division III college teams. All those teams compete in 4A classes and below.

It goes without saying that it is a lot easier to win when you can field players from a city-wide, state-wide, nation-wide and world-wide pools. That goes up about 100 levels the smaller the classification size you go.

Then there are the ambiguous transfer rules. Allegedly, the PIAA allows transfers based only on academic reasons. This is comical. Let’s just say there are a lot of Division I guards, centers, quarterbacks, linebackers, pitchers, midfielders and heavyweight wrestlers competing that love the academics and nothing else at so many private and charter schools.

Yes, this can and does happen at public schools as well. Whether it’s athletes living with relatives, renting apartments and “living there” during the school year while maintaining permanent residence in the original town. The transfer rules need changed and clarified across the board.

Then there is this: Diamond Johnson, a point guard who was averaging 33 points per game in 19 games with Phoebus, Virginia, transferred late this season to Neumann-Goretti which is purusing a fourth consecutive state championship. The PIAA has a 75 percent particiaption rule, meaning transfers must have played in 75 percent of the regular season games to be eligible for the postseason. Yet, it has allowed Johnson to compete throughout the playoffs despite playing in just four regular-season games after transferring the second week of February.

Remember the academic transfer thing? Johnson does mention academics in the story about her transferring. She does so after mentioning basketball first.

This is madness. It’s like the Wild West. Things are out of control and it is only going to get worse. Read high school basketball offseason articles from the Philadelphia area and it sounds like it’s college recruiting season. By PIAA logic, Philadelphia schools must make the Ivy League blush since so many athletes are going there for the academics.

And spare me those who argue that “to be the best you should want to beat the best.” Or those who say, “instead of making excuses, get better.” There are teams putting their hearts into their respective sports year-round.

This is not an effort thing or a desire thing. This is a fairness thing. This is the equivalent of asking Lycoming to go play the Celtics and calling it a fair fight.

So here we are again. It’s one thing to say this system is awful. It’s another to have alternative plans.

They could create separate fields for the privates/charters and publics. Have the public school state champion meet the private one at the end if you want, but at least give the Sullivan Countys of the world a shot at reaching a state championship.

One could also have the privates/charters follow the same rules that the co-ops must adhere to and play up in classification to a level that reflects the range it is pulling players from. One could look at other states like New Jersey, New York or Ohio and see how they do things and see if those systems are worth duplicating.

Or one can go a totally different route if the PIAA refuses to change this system. The public schools could pull out and form their own organization. Yes, it would take a lot of money and involve a lot of logistics but it is one way to make the PIAA take notice and it might be the only possibility.

One also must go after the PIAA’s sponsors and ask them why they continue to fund an organization that has such unfair and hypocritical policies. Ask them why they have rules that favor one set of schools and seemingly punish others.

The PIAA will say they cannot do anything because it claims the legislature holds the power. The legislature says it cannot do anything because the PIAA has the power. Someone clearly is lying.

Either way, ask yourselves this. If both groups admit there is a problem why do they not go to the other and demand that things change? The answer is because they would rather ignore the problem and hope people forget it than confront it.

Do not let that happen. Athletic directors, principals, school boards and all those affiliated with public schools have to take a page from Howard Beale in the 1976 classic, “Network,” and shout from the roof tops, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Take a page from Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption,” and bombard the PIAA, the state legislature and the sponsors with logical complaints until they listen, comply and fix this broken system.

Spread the word, too, because this is a fight worth fighting. Since we were young children we have been taught to do the right thing. Make sure the PIAA finally adheres to that rule.

Keep fighting until this fight is won.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com.

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