The Greensburg Central Catholic High School boys basketball team has a 14-2 record and is one of the best Class AA teams in the region.
But the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League will bar the team from the playoffs unless the school suspends coach Greg Bisignani, who also is an orthopedic surgeon, for three regular-season games after accusations that he made contact with an official following a recent game.
The WPIAL issued the edict Tuesday morning after the league's board of control had a hearing Monday with Dr. Bisignani and game officials. Dr. Bisignani was accused of making physical contact with official Mike Tucci after Greensburg Central Catholic lost, 66-63, Jan. 18 to McKeesport.
Dr. Bisignani was upset at the officiating but denied making contact with Mr. Tucci, despite testimony from another game official and two administrators from other schools that they saw the contact. Dr. Bisignani could not be reached for comment.
The WPIAL has issued similar suspension edicts to schools in the past. Five years ago, the WPIAL directed Apollo-Ridge to suspend football coach John Simon for one game for bumping an official. Three years ago, it directed Lincoln Park to investigate the conduct of boys basketball coach Mark Javens and decide on a penalty. The school eventually suspended Mr. Javens for four games.
"If a bylaw dictates a penalty or outcome, then we can penalize school personnel," said WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley. "But there is no bylaw for [making contact with a game official]. So we have no jurisdiction over personnel at schools in this case. That's a district issue. But we do have jurisdiction over schools. Greensburg Central can do what they want. But if they choose not to follow our directive, then they will be kept out of the postseason."
Dan Mahoney, athletic director for Greensburg Central Catholic, said the school has not decided if it will comply with the WPIAL's request. He said because there was no school Tuesday, he would not discuss the issue until today with principal Sister Mary Norbert Long.
Greensburg Central Catholic could appeal the case to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
"Obviously, we want to do what's in the best interest of our kids," Mr. Mahoney said. "We don't want them to not be in the playoffs. But because we're out of school, I can't give any answers."
At Monday's hearing, the WPIAL Board of Control viewed video from after the game, and the coach believed the video exonerated him. But Mr. O'Malley said the video did not show everything that went on after the game.
A second game official, North Catholic athletic director Mike Burrell and Gateway principal Bill Short all testified that Dr. Bisignani made contact with Mr. Tucci, who said the incident occurred near the scorer's table and was not on the video.
"He came from behind me, came up against my back and was yelling at me," Mr. Tucci said.
Mr. Tucci, 58, has been officiating high school basketball for 34 years. The third official on the game, John Jarocki, said he did not witness the contact.
Mr. Tucci said he is now "uncomfortable" officiating games.
"I just have this feeling, 'Is someone going to come up from behind me?' " Mr. Tucci said. "I've had more than my share of coaches who are upset, get emotional and raise their voice at me. But I've never had anyone come up and bump against my back and scream and yell at me."
Dr. Bisignani is in his fifth year as Greensburg Central's coach and has a 104-21 record.
He has had previous dealings with the board of control over the eligibility of players who transferred to Greensburg Central Catholic from other schools.
In the fall, the WPIAL ruled Billy Hipp ineligible to play this season after transferring from Bishop McCort in Johnstown. The WPIAL claimed he transferred for athletic intent, which is against PIAA and WPIAL rules. Mr. Hipp had played AAU basketball for a team coached by Dr. Bisignani.
The case was appealed to the PIAA, which overturned the WPIAL decision.
Besides a call for the coach's suspension, the WPIAL wants Greensburg Central to require him to enroll in a class in American Coaching Effectiveness Program.
The WPIAL also put the Greensburg Central Catholic basketball program on probation until the end of next season and censured Dr. Bisignani for inappropriate and unacceptable conduct toward officials and censured the Greensburg Central Catholic administration.
The school also will have to have an administrator at all home and away games through next season and will have to develop a plan to persuade its coaches not to act inappropriately toward officials.
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 or Twitter @mwhiteburgh.
First Published January 28, 2014 9:21 AM