Countdown to kickoff 2022: New WPIAL playoff format limits wild cards

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Tuesday, August 2, 2022 | 4:49 PM


The term “wild card” has become synonymous with playoff formats.

The NFL first introduced a wild-card team when the league merged with the AFL in 1970 to form two conferences with three divisions in each.

Major League Baseball instituted a wild-card team in 1994 when it realigned from two divisions to three in both the National and American League.

When it comes to WPIAL football, the wild card has been used to determine playoffs teams here and there for decades whenever a classification had less than four conferences.

That was rare in the old four-classification days, but since expansion to six classes in 2016, the wild card has been in regular use and is part of the reason the old HSSN abacus still exists.

However, a new playoff format the district is using means only Class 5A will be using a wild card to determine two playoff berths.

Here is an explanation of the new format and the class-by-class breakdown for the eventual March to the North Shore.

Format

In each conference with seven or fewer teams, the top four teams will qualify for the WPIAL playoffs. This would include 13 of the 17 district conferences with all of 6A, 5A and 3A as well as the Greater Allegheny and Big Seven Conference in 4A and the Century Conference in 2A.

The 4A Parkway Conference, 3A Western Hills Conference, 2A Allegheny and 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference all have eight teams. In those conferences, the top five teams will qualify for the playoffs.

The lone exception to this format is in Class A, where there are two eight-team and two seven-team conferences, but the district is only taking the top four teams in all four conferences, making for a full four-week, 16-team bracket.

Class 6A

There are only five teams in the entire class, and four of them will participate in the district playoffs. There will be two rounds with the four playoff teams starting in the semifinals Friday, Nov. 11 at the site of the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. The championship game is set for Saturday, Nov. 19.

The 6A championship game will be played at a high school venue for a third straight year since the WPIAL champion will begin the PIAA playoffs in the quarterfinal round on the weekend of Nov. 25-26, the same weekend the WPIAL will be holding four other football title games at Acrisure Stadium.

Class 5A

There are three conferences (Allegheny Six, Big East, Northeast) with seven teams in each conference. The top two teams qualify along with two third-place wild-card teams. The tournament will be three rounds starting with the quarterfinals (home game for top four seeds), then the semifinals at neutral sites, followed by the championship game set for Saturday, Nov. 19.

The 5A championship game will be played at a high school venue for the fourth time in five years since the WPIAL champion will begin the PIAA playoffs in the quarterfinal round on the weekend of Nov. 25-26, the same weekend the WPIAL will be holding four other football title games at Acrisure Stadium.

Class 4A

Thirteen teams will qualify for the district playoffs in 4A, including the top five teams from the Parkway Conference and the top four teams from both the Greater Allegheny and the Big Seven conferences for a four-week playoff bracket.

The top three seeds as determined by the district football steering committee will receive first-round byes and host quarterfinals games. The higher seeds in the five first-round games will host. One quarterfinal not involving a team with a bye and the semifinals will be at neutral sites.

The championship game will be played at Acrisure Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25 or Saturday, Nov. 26. The district champion will join the PIAA playoffs the following weekend in the state semifinals.

Class 3A

Twelve teams will qualify for the district playoffs in 3A, including the top four teams from the Western Hills, Allegheny 6 and Interstate Conferences for a four-week playoff bracket.

The top four seeds as determined by the district football steering committee will receive first-round byes and host quarterfinal games. The higher seeds in the four first-round games will host. The semifinals will be at neutral sites.

The championship game will be played at Acrisure Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25 or Saturday, Nov. 26. The district champion will join the PIAA playoffs the following weekend in the state semifinals.

Class 2A

Fourteen teams will qualify for the district playoffs in 2A, including the top five teams from the the Allegheny and Midwestern Athletic conferences and the top four teams from the Century Conference for a four-week playoff bracket.

The top two seeds as determined by the district football steering committee will receive first-round byes and host quarterfinal games. The higher seeds in the six first-round games will host. The two quarterfinals not involving a team with a first-round bye and the semifinals will be at neutral sites.

The championship game will be played at Acrisure Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25 or Saturday, Nov. 26. The district champion will join the PIAA playoffs the following weekend in the state semifinals.

Class A

Pretty simple for the classification with the most teams in the district. Sixteen teams will qualify for the district playoffs, including the top four teams from the Eastern, Tri-County South, Black Hills and Big 7 conferences for a four-week playoff bracket.

The top eight seeded teams as determined by the district football steering committee will host first-round games. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be at neutral sites.

The championship game will be played at Acrisure Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25 or Saturday, Nov. 26. The district champion will join the PIAA playoffs the following weekend in the state semifinals.

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