PIAA director tells WPIAL that transfer language has changed
Seated at the front of a conference room where many transfers have been denied for “athletic intent,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi told the WPIAL Board of Control on Monday that a “change in language” might be the cause for why so many cases have been overturned.
“Our transfer rule the past few years has changed in this fashion: The ‘whole or in part' (for athletic intent) has been replaced by material motivation,” Lombardi said. “Sometimes, when something has been in place so long, it's ingrained.”
Lombardi, who succeeded the retired Brad Cashman this past summer, was invited to speak to the WPIAL last month after its board found six student-athletes ineligible, only to have the PIAA Board of Directors reverse the rulings.
The WPIAL has approved 94 percent of transfer cases the past five years on the merit of their paperwork. Of the eligibility cases that had hearings before the board, however, 60 percent were denied. Of the past 38 cases that appealed to the PIAA, 30 were overturned.
That has left the WPIAL board frustrated and searching for answers. WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley used the visit as an opportunity to ask the following questions:
“Are we doing something other districts aren't?” O'Malley said. “Is everybody playing the game by the same rules?”
Lombardi was joined by Shamokin Area superintendant James Zack, president of the PIAA Board of Directors, and attorney Alan Boynton, legal counsel for the state's governing body for high school athletics.
“From a legal perspective, the transfer rule is the toughest thing we have,” Boynton said. “Our goal is to make it as uniform as possible. The new standard, ‘materially motivated,' is a but/for test.”
That is when the WPIAL board went into executive session so that it could discuss specific transfer cases.
One of the concerns for both parties is that because the eligibility hearings are not on the record, the PIAA might not hear the same testimony that led the WPIAL to rule an athlete ineligible.
“If they fail and go to the next level, they use it as a practice round and they polish it up,” Zack said. “I'm not going to say the stories change, but they alter it a little bit to tell more of their side of the story.”
O'Malley called hiring court reporters for every hearing “cost prohibitive.”
The WPIAL has contended that it follows Article VI, Section 4 of the PIAA by-laws to the letter, where other districts might be following the spirit of the rule, and has proposed changing the language of the by-law.
“Maybe there's something in the rule that needs to be changed,” Lombardi said. “It's a breathing by-law. Times change, rules change.”
Notes: Following a hearing, the WPIAL Board of Control approved the eligibility of Gateway freshman Aidan Howard, who transferred from North Hills after completing eighth grade. The board also approved 14 eligibility cases but tabled discussion for Shaler basketball star Geno Thorpe until next month. Thorpe, a Penn State recruit, transferred this summer but returned to Shaler this fall. The school hasn't received a principal sign-off from West Oaks Academy in Orlando, Fla.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812.