In effort to ease the burden of strained school budgets, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association is considering a move that would eliminate two games from all varsity schedules except football and spare district dollars on the cost of transportation and officials.
The 31-member state sports association will vote in less than two weeks—when the P.I.A.A. convenes on May 25 and 26 in conjunction with state track championships—whether or not to reduce athletic schedules for the impending school years.
“Knowing that many districts are facing financial strains due to (Gov. Tom) Corbett’s proposed budget, the association is looking for ways to help districts save on expenses,” said Melissa Mertz, assistant executive director of the PIAA.
Local district leaders have mixed feelings on the pending vote. Athletic directors say it’s a decision best left in-house, while school board members say it could be worth a look.
“I think the PIAA is trying to be the good guy and help districts with their budgets, but we prefer it’s left up to athletic directors because every district is different,” said Frank Vulcano Jr., athletic director at Chartiers Valley School District.
It will help some schools save money by reducing the need for officials and transportation for a couple games, “but it will hurt those schools that bring in revenue on some sports,” he said.
It may also hurt the athletes, said Ken Hustava, athletic director at Keystone Oaks School District.
“They’re taking games away from kids who love their sports and work hard,” he said.
And it’s almost like losing double for basketball programs, which lost two games in recent years to accommodate playoff schedules, he said.
“To lose four games in a few years is a lot,” Hustava said.
On the other hand, some sports don’t utilize their maximum game schedules, according to Tim O’Malley, executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.
Swimming and diving teams are entitled to 18 games a season, but they typically meet just 14 or 15 times, he said. So there may not be much of a change for those sports.
O’Malley said WPIAL offices haven’t received any complaints about possible game losses.
That’s possibly because a two-game loss doesn’t compare to the potential $2 million budget deficits staring down districts such as Canon-McMillan if Corbett’s proposed cuts to public education pass through the state Legislature.
Canon-McMillan School Director Manuel Pihakis said he and fellow board members are “working like the dickens” to avoid making cuts to academic and athletic programs.
“But we have asked all departments to reduce what they can. I know we’ve given (Athletic Director) Guy Montecalvo an enormous challenge in asking him to cut costs in his department,” Pihakis said.
A nearby district and common Canon-Mac athletic competitor, Upper St. Clair, is also facing a budget hole of about $789,000.
When board President Harry Kunselman learned that PIAA members were considering cost-saving measures, he said the district had to welcome any and all relief.
“Every little bit helps,” he said.