New WPIAL baseball schedule format is popular but not without its downside

Sunday, May 2, 2021 | 11:01 AM

Perhaps driven by covid-19 protocols, the WPIAL baseball steering committee is trying something new this spring.

You could call it a weekly section series.

Instead of playing each section opponent once in the first half of the regular season, then again in the second half, district teams are now playing a weekly series against the same section foe on back-to-back days.

While some coaches have taken a wait-and-see approach to this unique scheduling process, others seem to be embracing the idea of bringing a series scheduling format to the high school level like they do in the pros and in college.

“I love the new format,” South Fayette baseball coach Ken Morgan said. “I think it is a better and more effective way of scheduling. It provides truer outcomes and does not allow a team to utilize one pitcher over another team more than once in a season. I think it emphasizes the importance of depth and overall team construction.”

Carlynton coach Steve Bressler agrees.

“It simulates more of a college baseball experience,” he said. “As it does make for a different strategy of going into each week, we are all playing the same game and have to come up with the best game plan for our teams.”

Count Chartiers Valley coach Curt Cairns as one who loves the new scheduling format because he believes it makes for better competition.

“In the past a lot of the time, you ended up facing a team’s No. 1 pitcher every game that you played them or you could elect to do the same with yours,” he said. “Now, teams need to be more versatile on the mound, and you see a better variety of arms, which I believe fosters better competition.

“You don’t get that shutdown guy every game. The more complete teams will make the playoffs. It also makes scheduling nonsection games a lot easier.”

Bishop Canevin baseball coach Bill Varley likes the back-to-back section games, but he sees both the pros and the cons in the new format.

“The benefits are that teams with deeper pitching staffs gain the advantage, as opposed to a team with just two dominating pitchers,” he said. “It makes coaches develop kids that wouldn’t otherwise have much of an opportunity. The shortcomings are that it adds more walks to the game because the less-developed pitchers aren’t throwing as many strikes.”

Like Varley, Bressler agrees that this format challenges a team’s pitching depth. That can be a concern for a coach of a team in the smaller classifications like Carlynton and Bishop Canevin.

“That could be a shortcoming for a team that doesn’t have the depth in their pitching rotation,” Bressler said. “In years past, you would pitch your ace against the best teams and get away with a few other pitchers that could compete with your other teams. Now, you have to have at least two top pitchers and a few pitchers to come in in relief.

“Also, another shortcoming is if you have a bad game against a team, you have to have a short memory and get ready for the next day. There isn’t a day of practice to get you back on track.”

Cairns agrees the bigger schools have the advantage when it comes to better depth on the mound but also wonders about the state of nonsection games throughout the regular season.

“Nonsection games are not nearly as competitive,” he said. “Teams are saving their best arms for section play.”

So should this section series format be the norm for baseball regular seasons moving forward?

“Yes, 100 percent,” Cairns said.

“I am a big fan of this format, and for what it is worth would be for a three-game series between section opponents,” Morgan said. “This would provide a true series winner and would avoid many tiebreakers come the end of the season. With that being said, I would also fight for an expanded regular season. Twenty games is a very small schedule in comparison to other states.”

Bressler is willing to wait to see how it plays out.

“At this point in the season, I am indifferent to it, but I will roll with the punches either way,” he said.

Varley also wants to see how it plays out.

“I would like to see it continue for another year or two and then reevaluate,” he said.

North Allegheny athletic director and WPIAL baseball steering committee chairman Bob Bozzutto has been an advocate of having the WPIAL semifinals and/or finals be a best-of-three series.

Would coaches like to see a best-of-three series in the WPIAL playoffs, even if it meant fewer teams qualifying for the postseason?

“I think a best-of-three series should absolutely be instituted in the playoffs,” Morgan said. “I would push for the semifinals and the championship to be a three-game series at minimum. I also believe the scheduling of the playoffs could be organized to accommodate all rounds being a three-game series without having to limit the number of participants.”

Cairns agrees.

“If I had a WPIAL playoff wish, it would be for a best-of-three series for the semifinals and finals and keep the number of teams the same,” he said. “I would be in favor of losing some teams to allow for that. I see the final being a three-game series as the perfect place to start in 2022.”

Bressler disagrees.

“I would not be in favor of a best-of-three series,” he said. “One, because no other sport in the WPIAL does it, and two, I would not want to see less teams in the playoffs.”

While Varley likes the series idea in the regular season, like Bressler, he thinks the playoffs should continue as one and done.

“I like the sudden death playoff format with more teams competing in the tournament,” he said.

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