The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League recently sent an online survey to its member schools to find out their opinion regarding the current PIAA playoff format.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette listed the six questions in the survey. The No. 1 – and most pressing – question: Do you believe schools without geographical boundaries have a competitive advantage over schools with established geographical boundaries?
According to the Post-Gazette, 86 percent of the 108 schools (there are 138 WPIAL schools) that responded to the survey “said they would favor separate tournaments for boundary and non-boundary schools.”
The results of the survey might be discussed at the PIAA board of directors meeting later this month, but executive director Robert Lombardi has countless times said the PIAA cannot separate playoff competition between public and private schools on its own.
“It’s contrary to the law,” Lombardi told the Inquirer last month. “We adhere to the 1972 Pennsylvania law passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly that states private schools are full members of PIAA and there should be no segregation. If they want to change that law, we’ll follow it.”
Lombardi told the Post-Gazette that he met last month with state senators Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson (R-Bucks County) and Scott Martin (R-Lancaster County) and discussed the possibility of separating public and private schools in the playoffs.
Bottom line, it will take an act of legislature to split boundary and non-boundary schools – and finally appease the many administrators, coaches, and people that understandably want separate postseason tournaments.
Hopefully, for the sake of overall fairness, Lombardi & Co. will sit down soon with several take-charge state legislators and do whatever it takes to make the split a reality.
In boys’ basketball, in each of the last two seasons, nine of the 12 crowns were won by private or charter schools. This season, Roman Catholic (Class 6A), Imhotep Charter (4A), Neumann-Goretti (3A), and Kennedy Catholic (A) won championships.
The average differential in those nine championship games was 24.3 points.
Since 2010, in the two highest classifications in football, 12 of the 16 titles were captured by private or charter schools.
The PIAA directors and the truly influential folks in Harrisburg need to listen to the outcry from many across the state (it’s not only the WPIAL that’s complaining), scratch a 46-year-old bill from the books, and make the playing field more level, if only in basketball and football.
Adding classifications, as the PIAA did in 2016, and toughening transfer rules does not solve the real problem at hand.
The PIAA needs to follow states likes New Jersey, where there are separate playoffs for “Public” and “Non-Public” schools. That would produce more intriguing and suspenseful playoff contests, likely draw more spectators for the finals in Hershey and, most important, increase competitive balance.
The prediction here is that it will eventually happen. When is anybody’s guess. But let’s at least get the ball rolling on what could be a long and contested process. It would be well worth the effort.