New bill not the answer

Pennsylvania State Representative Aaron Bernstine unveiled House Bill 1600 Tuesday in Harrisburg in an attempt to bridge the concerns of both public and private schools in regard to the PIAA playoffs in several sports.

The bill would separate playoff brackets in football, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball and girls volleyball at the state level. A public and non-public champion would be declared and then play each other in a final championship game.

This is something many of the schools in the Mirror’s coverage area have been pushing for and what many supported by attending equity meetings last summer.

But there are other parts of the bill that were not discussed at those meetings.

It calls for the elimination of transfer rules.

Specifically, it states, “the inconsistently interpreted and enforced transfer rule will be eliminated, making a student immediately eligible to play after transferring schools, as long as he or she meets all other eligibility standards. In-season transfer eligibility will be restricted with exceptions granted for certain extenuating circumstances.”

Bernstine says he worked with both the equity committee and the PA Catholic Conference while drafting the bill.

“Some of these stories that I’ve heard about students that are unable to participate in a sport are sickening,” Bernstine said.

Surely some student athletes have been negatively impacted by the PIAA’s more stringent transfer rules and some, who had no insincere intentions were forced to sit out. But plenty of potential transfers probably didn’t happen because of the new rule that an athlete must sit out an entire postseason at a new school.

If House Bill 1600 was passed, there would be much less standing in the way of AAU teams continuing their seasons in high school.

Ridiculous, right?

Parents couldn’t possibly allow their kid to move school districts, uproot all they’ve known, people they’ve grown up with and drive perhaps even an extra hour to a school district where a relative lives or an apartment is rented just for sports, right?

Unfortunately, sometimes parents have delusions of grandeur when it comes to their own children and picture a future where their son or daughter becomes a professional athlete or is offered a Division I scholarship. Meanwhile, the extra travel time, sudden change of everything they’ve known and the pressure of fitting in at a new school is much more likely to change their future in a negative way.

The transfer rules weren’t put in to hurt children, they exist to protect them from themselves and parents who push a little too hard. Honestly, think back to when you were in school if you loved sports — what did you tend to prioritize at the time? Sports or your education?

If those rules were gone, many schools wouldn’t be impacted. Many players will stay put, and there won’t be some monumental shift immediately. That’s because most schools and programs do things the right way. They enjoy ups and downs based on how that generation of players has developed within their programs.

But what happens when one team decides to hire a recruiter?

Interestingly, House Bill 1600 will NOT separate public schools and charter schools such as Lincoln Park in the state playoffs. The reason some of these public schools are not outraged about this is because the rest of the bill allows for public schools to do the same things many of those charter schools already do.

The PIAA addressed this in a statement opposing the bill Tuesday.

“The elimination of the transfer rule would expose Pennsylvania athletes and schools to the chaos that has resulted in those states which have done so. It requires little research to see what has happened in states that permit open transfers. AAU teams, shoe companies and other third parties promote consolidation of top athletes at ‘preferred’ schools, which result in powerhouses where schools simply reload each year with high profile athletes.”

The stricter transfer rules the PIAA implemented last year were an attempt to stop schools, both public and private, from seeking talented players from other school districts, and removing that progress is a step in the wrong direction.

To be clear, House Bill 1600 has a very long way to go before it could be approved. Any bill that involves so much change is likely to hit many snags and have enough topics that most people are probably going to oppose at least one thing.

That doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t worth having. It is just hard to imagine this is the answer.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521

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