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Rep. Aaron Bernstine Introduces Bill To Separate Public, Private School Playoffs

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) -- Changes could be coming to high school state playoff brackets. After years of complaints about an unfair playing field between public and private schools, state representatives are looking to address those issues.

"There have been more arguments over high school athletics in this state than anyone can recall," the executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, Eric Failing, said.

Republican State Representative Aaron Bernstine, who serves parts of Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, looked to put an end to those arguments with his introduction of House Bill 1600.

"This bill is equally centered and focuses on students and student athletes from public and private schools across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," Bernstine said at the state capitol.

His new legislation proposes separate state playoff brackets between public and private schools. Each bracket would end with a title game, leaving a public school state champion and a private school state champion. Those two teams would then play each other in a final championship game.

District playoffs, like the WPIAL, are not impacted by the legislation.

"The Parity Act is a positive correction to a problem that has evolved since 1972," the superintendent of Laurel School District, Leonard Rich, said.

The sports impacted are football, baseball, softball, girls' and boys' basketball, girls' volleyball, and girls' and boys' soccer.

Leaders from public schools, private schools, and the state athletic equity committee worked together with Rep. Bernstine on the bill. He said the bill accomplishes what the PIAA wants with more fairness in athletics.

"The focus was always on the students," Rep. Bernstine said. "It was never about protecting their own kingdom or thiefdom or whatever that is. It was really about making sure we were protecting students."

It also addresses student athletes who are transfers. Rep. Bernstine said current enforcement is inconsistent. H.B. 1600 would eliminate the transfer rule altogether, as long as, an athlete meets other eligibility standards. In-season transfers will be restricted with exceptions for extenuating situations.

"Some of these stories I have heard about students that are unable to participate in a sport are sickening," Rep. Bernstine told the media.

Teams will now face punishment for disregarding regular season games. If a team forfeits two or more regular-season games, they will not be eligible for the state playoffs. This is designed to cut down on schools "blacklisting" other schools.

"We've had some issues there are some schools that just didn't want to play ours," Failing said. "Let's stop arguing about kid's sports. These kids want to go out, they want to have a good time."

If it passes, the bill would go into effect 60 days after it is signed.

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