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PIAA inches closer to adopting 10-percent rule for all sports

MECHANICSBURG >> A move to expand the number of football classifications in Pennsylvania took a small step forward, but there is still plenty for the PIAA to deliberate.

The state's governing body for high school sports progressed Wednesday by passing a second reading of a 10-percent rule, which would lower enrollment numbers for public schools. The change in how high schools are classified for all sports can be approved with a third and final reading at the next board of directors meeting in October.

The biggest question now is whether the 10-percent rule will be applied in a football format that will feature four or six classifications.

On Tuesday, the PIAA strategic planning and football steering committees narrowed to three possibilities: remain at four classifications, expand to six or expand to six with a "Super 700," which puts all high schools with at least 700 boys in their own classification, and divides the rest among five classes.

Also passed were motions to cut the season from the beginning, giving teams the option to play 10 regular-season games after one scrimmage or nine regular-season games after two scrimmages.

All proposals are designed to cut the high school football season by a week. Last year's state championships concluded Dec. 13. Only California and Texas ended later, while six other states ended their football seasons the same week as Pennsylvania.

"It has an impact on every winter sport with what we're doing now," said District 9 representative Bob Tonkin, who spearheaded the football classification discussion in January.

Tonkin left Mechanicsburg for the three-hour drive back to his home area hopeful change will happen in time for the 2016 high school football season.

"There's some wiggle room in there, so that's a positive," he said. "But it seems the consensus is six classes, 16 weeks."

That consensus sputtered into some confusion Wednesday for two or three board members. They questioned whether they were voting on a first or second reading and asked to return to their home districts to discuss the remaining proposals.

With that delay, PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi remained confident a change could happen in time for the 2016 football season.

"There's time," Lombardi said. "They at least now have a road map."

The football steering committee will meet again Sept. 16. The board of directors, which must give the final OK on any proposals, will meet again in October and December.

Lombardi said the board has until December to make a final decision.

As for the 10-percent rule, Lombardi beamed over that progression. If passed a third time, member schools would only count 10 percent of their students who are home schooled or attend a cyber, charter or alternative school.

Such a change could affect schools such as Northeastern, which barely exceeded enrollment requirements to play Class 4A in boys' basketball.

In 10-percent examples by the PIAA using current enrollment figures for football, William Penn would be considerably affected. If the PIAA expands to six classifications, William Penn would be 6A in football without the 10-percent rule. With it, the Bearcats would drop to 4A with schools such as West York and York Suburban.

"Some will change what class they're in, but of course we don't know how many classes we will have — four or six," Lombardi said.

While the 10-percent rule could potentially push some public schools to lower classifications, it cannot affect private institutions.

"I think it makes the playing field a little more even with those schools that don't have to count them, i.e. private and straight-up charters that have athletic programs," Lombardi said.

Other developments from Wednesday's board of directors meeting included:

• Passing of the first reading to expand boys' and girls' lacrosse to two classifications. Such a move could go into effect for the spring 2017 season, if it passes board of director readings in October and December. There are currently 207 girls' lacrosse programs and 198 boys' programs in the PIAA.

• A change to district postseason team tennis scoring: after a team secures three wins, end of match procedures are effective immediately. An example is if a player wishes not to finish his or her match because it will have no outcome on the overall team result. If the opponent wants to play, the individual match will be scored as a forfeit for the withdrawing player. District 3 tennis chairman Doug Bohannon said the measure will be in effect this fall.

• Pius X withdrew from the PIAA. The Royals played West York last year in football.

• Four schools were approved PIAA membership: Collegium Charter School in District 1, Wilson Christian Academy in District 7, plus two District 11 schools — Building 21 and Medical Academy.

• Lombardi suggested the PIAA consider a policy with drones being used to spy on opposing teams. Lombardi said the subject came up during this summer's National Federation of State High School Associations meeting and added such a situation took place in Philadelphia.

Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.