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Bill to separate publics, privates introduced

State representative Aaron Bernstine introduced a bill Tuesday to the Pennsylvania State Legislature which would separate state championship tournaments in eight sports in the PIAA.

Bernstine (R-Beaver/Butler/Lawrence) introduced the Parity in Interscholastic Athletics Act (HB 1600) at a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol Media Center with support from public and nonpublic school leaders, according to a release from Bernstine’s office. The legislation calls for the separation of PIAA tournaments for those “team sports facing competitive balance challenges.” The public and nonpublic state champions would then meet for a final state championship.

Football, baseball, boys basketball, girls basketball, girls soccer, boys soccer, girls volleyball and softball would all be subject to separate public and nonpublic state championships. The legislation also provides an opportunity to add more sports to that list down the road should those sports have at least 50 public and nonpublic schools participating statewide.

“This is the first time in 40 years that both sides have sat down in a non-adversarial setting to resolve these challenges and to understand each other’s goals,” Bernstine said in a release. “At the end of the day, everyone was focused on making sure the end result was in the best interest of the students both athletically and academically.”

Under the legislation, the transfer rules as their currently written, would be eliminated. It would allow students who transfer schools to be immediately eligible to compete as long as the student meets all other eligibility rules. The only exception would be for students who transfer in-season to schools which have already completed at least 50 percent of its competitions. Under that circumstance, transferring students would be ineligible to compete in that season, with exceptions made for extenuating circumstances.

But along with the new transfer guidelines, it would make a team having to forfeit at least two games in a season ineligible for the PIAA playoffs.

In the past, PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi said the organization’s hands have been tied by Act 219 of 1972 which allowed nonpublic schools to become members of the PIAA, leading to the current combined playoff structure.

“It’s a pretty common sense bill,” Bernstine told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “By statute, the PIAA would have to implement what the law states.”

In December, the PIAA, in a statement, suggested the Pennsylvania Athletic Equity Committee, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, and the Pennsylvania Charter School Coalition work to find solutions to perceived competitive fairness issues. Bernstine said with this act, the parties involved have done exactly what the PIAA asked of them in that December statement.

“We’re willing to talk to the PIAA about this,” Bernstine said. “They were welcomed to the table before and we’ve had those general conversations.”

“This is a big change and we’ve worked very hard together,” said Eric Falling, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. “Change can be scary. I think we’ve made a lot of very positive steps in this bill. I think at the end of the day people are going to be happy with the work we’ve done in our partnership.”

Bernstine was to introduce the bill later Tuesday following the morning press conference. He said it was his intention to ask that the bill be moved quickly through both the state House of Representatives and the Senate.

The act will take effect 60 days after its approval in the state legislature.

“When you have something where all sides are on board, and the public is pretty darn on board, we believe the Senate will do its job and impose the will of the people,” Bernstine said.

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