Robert Lombardi has a very big job in front of him.
Who, you might ask, is Robert Lombardi?
Well, he’s about to become the single most important figure in high school athletics in the state of Pennsylvania.
That’s because Lombardi was unanimously approved as the new executive director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association on Friday. He will take over for Hanover native Brad Cashman, whose resignation takes effect in July. Cashman was the PIAA’s top man for nearly two decades.
You may have missed the news of Lombardi’s hiring over the weekend. After all, the PIAA basketball championships were taking place, not to mention March Madness and the resurrection of Tiger Woods’ golf career. Lombardi’s hiring was understandably buried on the inside pages of most state newspapers.
But if you love high school sports, Lombardi’s hiring is big news — very big news. He’s been with the PIAA for nearly a quarter century, and at 56, it’s likely he’ll lead the PIAA for the better part of a decade — possibly more. His influence on high school athletics in York County and beyond will be undeniable.
When he takes over in July, his plate will be overflowing. Here are just a handful of controversial issues facing his organization:
—What to do — if anything — about the domination of the PIAA basketball playoffs by Catholic and charter schools?
—How to shorten the state football playoffs, which extend to nearly Christmas and infringe on winter sports such as basketball and wrestling.
—How to deal with declining attendance at — and declining revenues from — key, high-profile PIAA events, such as basketball, football and wrestling?
—How to respond to pay-to-play proposals that have recently been adopted by some PIAA member schools, including some here in York County?
—Can the transfer rule be improved and enforced more fairly? Transfers for purely athletic reasons are prohibited, but the rule is exceedingly hard to enforce.
The major problem for Lombardi is that he can do very little about any of those issues by himself. He will need the approval of the PIAA Board of Control, made up of high school representatives from across the state. Trying to get those folks — with their widely varying agendas — to agree on anything can be exceedingly difficult.
Just ask Cashman, who has long wanted to shorten the prep football season, but has been unable to push through a proposal that could satisfy most of the board.
Yes, Lombardi has a very big job in front of him, indeed.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 854-1575, ext. 455.