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Football

PIAA votes to expand classifications in football, other sports

Chris Harlan
| Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, 5:33 p.m.

MECHANICSBURG — The PIAA just became a lot bigger.

The PIAA Board of Directors ended a 10-month debate and overwhelmingly voted 26-4 on Wednesday to expand football to six evenly divided classifications in 2016. The four no votes came from the WPIAL and City League.

But more surprisingly, the PIAA board suspended protocol and voted 23-7 to expand many other team sports, with boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball also increasing to six classifications next school year. Boys and girls soccer and girls volleyball will increase to four classes. Field hockey expands to three. Boys and girls lacrosse increases to two.

By suspending protocol, the motion did not need to pass three votes as PIAA rules typically require.

“It's an important day (for the PIAA) because I believe the board has reacted to what the membership wants,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. “That's the important thing about boards, that they follow the wishes of their membership. I think the overwhelming majority — at least illustrated by that vote — wants expansion.”

The WPIAL strongly opposed football expansion and its three representatives — Blackhawk athletic director Jack Fullen, Mars football coach and athletic director Scott Heinauer and Chartiers Valley assistant superintendent Scott Seltzer — all voted no, along with City League athletic director Mike Gavlik.

WPIAL administrators have insisted football expansion would negatively impact travel, rivalries and its championship experience at Heinz Field. But after Wednesday's vote, they sounded ready to move on.

“The WPIAL will survive,” said Fullen, the WPIAL president. “We'll make it work. Was it what we wanted? No. Do we think it's the best for our constituents? No. But we'll make it work.”

The six-classification overhaul will shrink football season by one week. Lombardi, who favored expansion, said he was surprised by the votes' margin of approval. Each required only a simple majority.

“I thought there were a number of people who were very, very interested,” he said. “But obviously, the membership has got hold of their representatives and said this is important to us.”

Lombardi said he believed expansion would be embraced more by coaches in the WPIAL than the league's administration.

“I think there are an awful lot of coaches out there (in the WPIAL) who are happy,” he said. “I hear there are a lot of folks who maybe don't say their piece because they don't want to ripple the water.

“It's giving more schools the opportunity to play in the postseason. It's going to give more people the opportunity to advance to a championship game. It's more exposure and positive publicity for their school and their local community. I think it's a great thing.”

Teams will learn their new classifications in mid-November, Lombardi said. They'll then have until Dec. 15 to decide whether to “play up” in class. The final class breakdown for all sports will be presented Dec. 17 at the PIAA board meeting, he said.

Because of those deadlines, proponents for expansion insisted the vote needed to occur now rather than later.

“I think we should have had more time to study it,” Fullen said, “but we'll make it work. (WPIAL executive director) Tim O'Malley does a good job, and so do our various steering committees.”

Gavlik, representing the City League, voted against both expansion motions.

“I looked at it primarily financially,” Gavlik said. “If we have to take the schools out into multiple regionals then it's going to increase our travel and it will increase our cost.”

Seltzer also worried about the financial impact.

“We're trying to protect the interest of our school districts,” he said. “You're talking about districts that are hurting financially. Some of them are borrowing money. Some of them are closing. We feel that six classifications could cause an additional cost for those school districts. That was one of our main reasons for (opposing) it.”

The PIAA has debated expansion for years, but the idea found traction last December when District 9 football chairman Bob Tonkin presented the idea to the PIAA football steering committee. Tonkin was in attendance at the PIAA office Wednesday to watch the vote.

“In my opinion, it's a great move the board made for all the student-athletes at schools in Pennsylvania,” Tonkin said. “I respect the difference of opinion out of (District) 7. I understand what they're going through. But if you look at the big picture of everything, what's better for all of our sports? In the long run, I think we did a great service to everybody today.”

However, even Tonkin, who favored expanding all sports, was surprised by the PIAA's swift action.

“I think the vote illustrates that there's a lot support for it,” Lombardi said. “Probably much more than maybe some of us even realized.”

• The PIAA board overwhelmingly denied a request from Farrell to leave District 10 and join the WPIAL. Farrell athletic director Dan Dragicevic, who addressed the board Wednesday, wrote in a letter to the PIAA that “chronic mistreatment of our student-athletes and staff” prompted the request. Dragicevic wrote that “many of the instances have been blatantly racial.” District 10's board had unanimously denied Farrell's exit.

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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