It’s a step forward. We’re talking about House Bill 1600 — i.e., the Parity in Interscholastic Athletics Act — that was introduced Tuesday in the Legislature by state Rep. Aaron Bernstine. The bill would, among other things, create separate public and private school brackets in state — but not district — playoff competition.
There is a lot to like here, starting with the local input that helped to shape it. In a press conference introducing the measure, Bernstine credited Laurel School District Superintendent Len Rich, local attorney Larry Kelly and former New Castle Area School District Superintendent John Sarandrea with helping to push forward a measure addressing a lack of fairness that has existed within the PIAA structure since 1972. We are proud that these gentlemen stepped up to try to heal a legislative sore that has festered for decades.
We believe that the bill is a sensible step in the right direction, and we urge both the state House and the Senate — and ultimately, Gov. Tom Wolf — to throw their support behind it.
That’s not to say that we think the bill is perfect. However, in the political world, compromise is often the key to success, and this is not a bad one.
For starters, the measure would create separate brackets only at the state playoff level. Individual PIAA districts — such as the WPIAL — would still require their boundary (public) schools to butt heads in the playoffs with competitors who can pull players from other towns, counties, states and, in one Mercer County case, even countries. District champions would then advance into their corresponding PIAA bracket.
While this creates a state public school and a state private school champion — who will square off in one final game — we’d like to see schools have the same opportunity to win their district titles. But one step at a time. We’ll take this for now.
House Bill 1600 also would eliminate transfer rules that Bernstine rightly observes have been inconsistently enforced. Basically, the only limitation now would be that students who transfer must do so before midseason if they intend to jump right in and play for their new school.
We can’t help but recall, though, Archie Bunker’s proposal on the 1970s TV series “All in the Family” to end airline hijackings. Archie suggested that guns be passed out to each passenger at the beginning of a flight, then collected up at the end. The idea certainly levels the playing field, but does it solve the problem or make it worse?
Similarly, in eliminating the transfer rule, we see the possibility of public schools becoming ersatz private schools, now having permission — as do their private counterparts — to welcome in athletes from anywhere. However, public schools remain boundary schools, and students would have to actually relocate to the district or pay tuition to attend and play. So some safeguards do remain.
It’s taken the NCAA a few tries to get crowning a national champion right, and some would say it’s still not there yet, suggesting an eight-team playoff field rather than four. Likewise, House Bill 1600 isn’t what we’ve advocated all along — separate playoffs for public and private schools, period.
However, Bernstine and the team with which he’s worked have opened a door long bolted shut against enhanced fairness in high school athletics. We urge legislators to fast track House Bill 1600 into law, and as its provisions unfold on courts and playing fields across the commonwealth, to pay close attention — along with educators — and to be willing to consider further evolution as needed.