3 options WPIAL could take with Class 6A football realignment

Tuesday, January 18, 2022 | 12:16 AM

Tuesday should be a big day for WPIAL football players, coaches and fans.

The WPIAL board is expected to approve realigned conferences for the 2022 and ’23 seasons, giving everyone a first look at the football landscape for the next two years. Arguably, the biggest question involves the WPIAL’s five biggest schools: North Allegheny, Mt. Lebanon, Seneca Valley, Central Catholic and Canon-McMillan, the only teams left in Class 6A.

What to do with them has sparked debate.

“Basically, you have one of three options,” said Canon-McMillan coach Mike Evans, adding that none is a perfect solution. If Evans had his way, he’d eliminate the classification entirely statewide.

Instead of six classes, he’d like to see PIAA football reduced to five.

“I just wish Pennsylvania would realize that regionally we have issues, and that we would be better if we were a five-class setup instead of six,” Evans said.

That’s not on the table for the next two seasons, so WPIAL must make a choice.

The WPIAL football committee met Friday to make a recommendation to the board. It’s possible the football committee came up with an entirely novel approach, but the football committee’s recommendation won’t be revealed until Tuesday’s board meeting.

Here’s a look at three possible options:

Option 1: The WPIAL takes a somewhat status-quo approach and leaves the five Class 6A teams as a separate classification. The five teams would have only four conference games apiece, meaning the majority of their schedules would be nonconference, likely against WPIAL Class 5A opponents.

Or, the five teams could play one another twice in a home-and-home series. But then some would play for a third time in the WPIAL playoffs, which isn’t ideal.

“The biggest schools in the WPIAL just aren’t having a good experience,” Evans said. “I know the Philadelphia schools really want (six classifications), but it’s not working for us over here.”

Option 2: The WPIAL could combine its Class 6A and 5A teams into one big-school classification. Class 6A/5A would have 22 or 23 teams (depending on the outcome of Aliquippa’s pending appeal to the PIAA).

Theoretically, if divided into three conferences, a Class 5A-6A alignment might look like this:

• Conference 1: Central Catholic, Fox Chapel, North Allegheny, North Hills, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley, Shaler

• Conference 2: Baldwin, Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan, Moon, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township, South Fayette, Upper St. Clair

• Conference 3: Franklin Regional, Gateway, Hempfield, Norwin, Penn Hills, Penn-Trafford, Plum

If Aliquippa joins Class 5A, these would change a little.

Evans said he sees value in this format by rekindling some South Hills rivalries.

“They did a nice job last year giving us some nonconference games,” Evans said. “We played Bethel, Trinity and Peters. Some of those games may mean more to our kids than our conference games because in our conference games we’re playing teams over an hour away who aren’t our traditional rivals.”

“By playing 5A, there’s less travel and maybe better attendance because of the proximity,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. “But as a 6A coach, you don’t want to necessarily always be playing 5A schools. Nothing against them, but there’s more to lose than there is to gain.”

Another drawback would be that some Class 5A teams don’t necessarily want to play certain 6A opponents.

“Putting myself in the shoes of a 5A coach — 5A doesn’t really have a problem, right?” Walker said. “They can have conferences and everything without us. Why should 6A become 5A’s problem?”

Also, the WPIAL would need to address the postseason format. Would there be separate WPIAL Class 6A and 5A champions or just one?

“Are all of the 6A teams going to play each other in the regular season if there are (combined) 5A-6A conferences?” Walker said. “If you do not, how are they going to be ranked at the end of the year for playoffs? And do they all make it?”

Option 3: The WPIAL could seek some type of combined schedule with a neighboring district, such as PIAA District 10, which has four Class 6A teams: Butler, Cathedral Prep, McDowell and Erie High.

“My vote would be to include District 10,” Walker said, “with 6A playing 6A.”

First, District 10 would need to be interested.

The vast majority of 6A teams are in Eastern Pennsylvania. The western half has very few. State College, Altoona and Mifflin County are the only 6A schools in District 6. The Pittsburgh City League, which counts as District 8, has one (Allderdice).

District 1 alone, which includes suburban Philadelphia schools, has more than 30 teams in Class 6A.

Joining with a neighboring district is an interesting idea, but the biggest drawback could be travel. A round trip from Canon-McMillan to McDowell is 280 miles — and at least 2½ hours each way.

“There are bus shortages and driver shortages in a lot of districts,” said Evans, Canon-Mac’s coach. “It’s hard enough to get to Norwin on time, let alone get up to Erie.

“I remember playing Altoona, and that was a haul. The booster club paid thousands of dollars for coach buses for that trip. It’s hard to believe you’d be going up there in yellow submarines for three hours in 90-degree heat with the windows open. That’s probably worth 14 points right there.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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