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State Senate hands PIAA an ultimatum

Published July 09. 2011 09:02AM

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association better know as the PIAA has been in existence for nearly 100 years.

The governing body of high school sports in the state, the PIAA was established in Pittsburgh on Dec. 29, 1913. According to its website, the PIAA "was formed by a group of high school principals who wanted to eliminate abuses, establish uniform rules, and place interscholastic athletics in the overall context of secondary education."

But now the organization, which oversees nearly 1,500 senior and junior high schools in the state, has been told that it could be shut down.

That threat has come from an unlikely source the Pennsylvania State Senate, specifically Republican State Senator Jake Corman of the 34th District.

Corman introduced a provision in the school funding bill that is tied to the Pennsylvania state budget. That provision would require the PIAA to change one of its rules dealing with student athlete transfers or be shut down.

Corman and the State Senate haven't given the PIAA a lot of time to make the change either. The organization has been told to get it down at its Board of Directors meeting later this month.

The rule in question is one that the PIAA put in place to discourage transfers for athletic reasons. The regulation states that if a transfer from one school to another is "motivated in some way by an athletic purpose," the student-athlete will have to sit out one year.

Corman's constituency includes the Juniata County School District. Juniata is facing a budget crisis that is forcing it to consider dropping some sports for the 2011-2012 school year. If that happens, Corman wants to make sure that students who play the affected sports can transfer without the penalty of having to sit out a full year.

While Corman's motivation for forcing the PIAA to make the change was spurred by what is happening in his home district, it is a problem that is quickly becoming widespread throughout the state. Just recently, both the Panther Valley and Palmerton school districts were facing similar budget crunches that had sports programs on the chopping block.

A grassroots fundraising effort that was initiated by a parents club in Palmerton raised over $43,000 in just a few weeks and eventually saved any sports from being cut.

On the other hand, the Panther Valley School Board recently announced that it would not be able to fund the sports of swimming, golf and cross country for the upcoming school year.

At first glance, Corman's legislation seems to make sense. This year, more schools across the state than ever before have either dropped sports or considered dropping them.

But there could be some problems with Corman and the State Senate giving the PIAA such a hard line ultimatum.

First, although it is highly unlikely, what happens if the PIAA Board of Directors can't agree on how to tweak the transfer rule or the changes it makes doesn't satisfy Corman. If the PIAA is shut down in August, who runs high school sports in Pennsylvania?

Second, and this problem has a better chance of materializing, the wording in the provision is extremely vague. It says "Students who in the current or prior school year attended a school entity that has abolished its program of interscholastic athletics in whole or in part shall be eligible to participate without penalty in the program of interscholastic athletics of another school entity."

Does that mean that a student-athlete must transfer to another school district to play or does it mean that he can remain enrolled in his current school, but must be accepted by another district to play on their team?

Panther Valley Athletic Director Kristin Black said that without studying the law more closely she didn't want to give an opinion on whether she felt it was a good idea or not. But she did say that she hopes the PIAA isn't pressured into making any rash changes without considering all the ramifications.

"There are very good reasons for the transfer rule," she said. "It is suppose to prevent changing schools for athletic purposes, but if a school drops a sport and you let those students transfer, you are basically saying that it is alright to transfer for an athletic purpose. That might open things up to anyone transferring for athletic reasons whether a sports program is dropped or not."

Black said there are also some other factors that figure into a transfer.

"If a student would transfer from Panther Valley to Jim Thorpe because we don't have a golf team, what district would be in charge of transportation of the student/athlete? Would it be the district he is currently in, the district he is going to, would he be forced to provide his own transportation? Those are things that would have to be answered."

It's definitely going to be a tough call for the PIAA.

If you play a sport all your life, but your school is forced to drop it part way through your high school career, most athletes would want the chance to continue playing.

Currently, the PIAA has a policy that allows students/athletes at a school that doesn't have a sport to play for a neighboring school district that does. But since taking just one student from another school mandates the new school adding the entire enrollment of that other school, often times they are hesitant to do it, since it could put their sports programs in a higher enrollment classification.

So maybe instead of mandating the PIAA change their transfer rule, the state should have just suggested the PIAA tweak the "sharing" rule. Maybe instead of a school district having to count the entire enrollment from the school the student/athletes are coming from, they should only have to count the athletes that are coming.

That seems like a better idea than having to change the entire transfer rule.

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