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When Robert Lombardi, executive director of the PIAA, gave his annual testimony to the state legislature last month, he dropped a small bombshell: The possibility of a "Super Class'' — or Class 7A — in football and basketball.
This is connected to the "Competition Classification Formula" currently in the PIAA pipeline. Schools would be classified based on enrollment, a "success factor'' and a metric based on the number of athletic transfers.
Former Class 6A schools that qualify under the formula would move up into the Super Class. Schools could also — and some would presumably have to — voluntarily opt in to the Super Class.
"I don't know enough about it to comment,'' Andre Noble, athletic director and basketball coach of Philadelphia powerhouse Imhotep Charter, said Thursday.
That was a familiar, and understandable, refrain in an informal survey of athletic directors.
"I haven't seen anything concrete," said Bill Flanagan, AD at Erie Cathedral Prep/Villa Maria Academy. "Without having a firm idea what we're talking about, I can't really comment.''
The Super Class concept acknowledges a powerful truth: There are elite athletic magnet schools in the state. When they compete against public (boundary) high schools, the results are often very lopsided. Some believe they should only compete for state championships against each other.
Lombardi's testimony suggested a Super Class of eight schools in football and 16 both in boys and girls basketball.
In theory, it could include Noble's Imhotep, a Class 4A charter school that has won seven state boys basketball titles since 2009 and reached the state final in football four times, winning it once.
Other potential Super Class candidates could include — but not be limited to — Class 5A Archbishop Wood (District 12), whose football and girls basketball teams have won five state titles each this decade; Class 3A Neumann-Goretti (District 12), which has won five straight PIAA boys basketball titles and four straight girls basketball titles; and Class 1A Kennedy Catholic (District 10), which has won three straight boys basketball titles and has already volunteered to move up to Class 6A next season.
Continuing with the list of Super Class candidates, there is venerable St. Joseph's Prep of the Philadelphia Catholic League, which has reached the Class 6A football final four of the last five years, winning three.
And then there are sibling schools Erie Cathedral Prep and Villa Maria Academy, which compete in Class 4A in District 10. Prep owns three state football titles since 2012. Villa Maria won three straight girls basketball titles from 2009 to 2011 and has reached the state final six times since 2008.
Others that come to mind: Philadelphia's Roman Catholic in basketball and Pittsburgh Central Catholic in football.
And therein is the problem.
All of the above-mentioned schools are private, with the exception of Imhotep, a charter school. Many of them are in Philadelphia. The middle of the state — the portions outside the urban population centers — are very under-represented.
What public schools might even be considered for the Super Class? Perhaps Reading in basketball or Wilson or Pine-Richland in football.
Private and charter schools win championships and are magnets for midseason and international transfers. But one thing they don't always bring is paying fans — another sticking point in this debate, some say.
"The reason we don't play up is not competitive,'' Imhotep's Noble said. "It's because we're not gonna pull the numbers to fill the Giant Center. A 6A championship game with 100 people in the stands would hurt the PIAA.''
On the other hand, after the 2018 4A championship game in March, it was suggested to Noble, by Mike Bullock of the City of Basketball Love website, that they might fill the Giant Center for an Imhotep-Kennedy Catholic game. Just for the fun of it.
"If you can fix it with Dr. Lombardi,'' Noble said, "we'll be here.''
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