Football committee will choose wild card teams under new WPIAL postseason format

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Tuesday, June 4, 2024 | 10:06 AM


The WPIAL has finalized its postseason plans for next football season and on Tuesday revealed a new system for choosing wild card teams.

Rather than rely on tiebreaking formulas such as Gardner Points, the WPIAL will empower its football committee to choose those at-large qualifiers. That’s a big change since five of the six classifications will have wild card teams.

In all, there are 16 wild cards.

Football committee co-chairman Mike Burrell said the new system won’t “pigeonhole” the committee in the way those mathematical formulas sometimes did.

“We have a great committee and a very dedicated one,” said Burrell, the athletic director at Norwin. “We take our jobs seriously, and this will put the best qualifiers in the postseason tournament.”

The number of playoff qualifiers for the upcoming season varies by classification.

Class 6A has four qualifiers (no wild cards).

Class 5A has 12 qualifiers (top three in each conference plus three wild cards).

Class 4A has eight qualifiers (top two in each conference plus two wild cards).

Class 3A has 12 qualifiers (top three in each conference plus three wild cards).

Class 2A has 13 qualifiers (top three in each conference plus four wild cards).

Class A has 16 qualifiers (top three in each conference plus four wild cards).

WPIAL administrator Vince Sortino said members of the football committee had discussed the current wild card process at length in recent days before deciding to make a change.

“They thought it would be best to use the committee … so that we have the availability for a better tournament,” Sortino said. “One of the big discussions was about Upper St. Clair last year. If the committee were determining that, Upper St. Clair most likely would’ve been a wild card.”

The wild card process faced added scrutiny after Upper St. Clair missed the playoffs a year ago despite an 8-2 record.

The Panthers finished in a three-way tie for second with Moon (6-6) and Bethel Park (4-7) in the Allegheny Six. All three had matching 3-2 conference records. However, Upper St. Clair was left out of the playoffs based on a tie-breaking formula that ranked the Panthers fourth in the conference.

Only third-place teams were eligible for a wild card under the previous system, and no more than one wild card could come from any conference. Sortino said that is no longer true. The committee will have the ability to include any team it deems worthy.

“It helps when you have that ‘human element’ talking about it,” Sortino said. “There are injuries that impact teams throughout the year, there are quarterbacks that go down, there are so many things involved week to week. We have a very good mix of committee members going all the way from Class A to 6A that really do their homework.”

The WPIAL traditionally used wild cards only in situations where an equal number of qualifiers couldn’t be drawn from each conference. However, in Class A and 5A for next season, the WPIAL has included wild cards as a way to gain flexibility in case one conference is considered stronger than another.

“Not all conferences are equal,” Burrell said. “It may work out where it’s the top four in each (that qualify for the playoffs), but it may not be.”

Adding that human element to the wild card process will open up the 12-person committee to criticism about its choices, but Sortino said they were prepared for that scrutiny.

“Everyone on that committee is an (athletics) administrator, a principal, a superintendent or a retired administrator,” he said. “They’ve been used to criticism all of their careers.”

The WPIAL finals for Class 6A and 4A are Nov. 15 or 16. The Class A, 2A, 3A and 5A finals are Nov. 22 or 23.

The WPIAL did not announce championship sites, but Norwin is expected to again host the first weekend of games with the four others played at Acrisure Stadium.

Heat acclimation for the upcoming season begins Aug. 5 with the first official practice coming a week later.

Week Zero games are Aug. 23.

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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