WPIAL will re-evaluate how it schedules football after Northgate forfeits

Friday, July 26, 2019 | 1:32 AM

The WPIAL will change the way it schedules nonconference football games after a team strategically forfeited for the second time in two years.

Northgate decided to forfeit its Aug. 30 football game against McGuffey to avoid injuries to an already thin roster. The decision was made by the school’s administration, which sent a letter this week to McGuffey.

It comes one year after Mapletown forfeited to Clairton for similar reasons, also in Week 1.

“We’re going to take a look at what we can do to improve the system for next year across the board,” WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said. “And we’re going to get feedback from the schools.”

For now, the WPIAL has no definitive plans. But maybe as early as November, with guidance from the WPIAL board and its football steering committee, the league could present a couple of fixes for member schools, O’Malley said.

The forfeits highlight a growing discontent some teams have with the method the WPIAL currently uses to schedule nonconference games.

The WPIAL employs a grid system to give all teams a nine-game regular season. Each team in a conference is slotted into a column on the grid. To fill open weeks, the WPIAL pairs teams from different conferences or classifications.

The WPIAL does not consider the strength of the two teams matched head to head, which inevitably creates some mismatches.

With 185 boys in grades 9-11, McGuffey is Class 2A in size. Northgate, with 121, is Class A. The PIAA enrollment numbers aren’t drastically different, but the two football programs are a mismatch on the field.

Northgate went 0-10 last season and was outscored 89-435 in Fulmore’s first year of program building. McGuffey went 8-3 last season and outscored opponents 463-238 under veteran coach Ed Dalton.

McGuffey defeated Northgate, 48-0, in a loss that injured several Flames players.

“We’re a small Single-A team. McGuffey is a pretty deep Double-A team,” Northgate coach Michael Fulmore said. “We really suffered a lot of injuries last year. Basically, the administration at Northgate decided that we have more to lose than we have to gain.”

The nonconference game has no impact on playoff qualifying.

Northgate started last season with two dozen players but lost five to injury in that lopsided loss to McGuffey. Among those hurt, Fulmore said, was the team’s starting quarterback, who sustained a season-ending back injury.

“Injuries like that in the first game of the year can really be a program-ender,” Fulmore said.

The second-year coach didn’t make the decision to forfeit but said he understood the administration’s reasons. At one point last season, his team dressed 13 players for a game.

Dalton, who’s also McGuffey’s athletic director, said he was surprised by Northgate’s decision.

“The word forfeit is not used in the WPIAL very often,” Dalton said. “So to receive a letter that says we are forfeiting our game, that’s surprising. … I know our score was lopsided last year, I understand that, but we were not throwing passes or playing our starters.”

Dalton, who’s entering his eighth season at McGuffey, said he understood what it’s like to build a program.

“My first year at McGuffey, our slogan could have been ‘Everybody’s homecoming,’” he said. “My first two games, we had 25 players, of which maybe seven played football the year before. We played South Fayette and Seton LaSalle to start the season, and we played (junior varsity) the next day with 15 guys.

“I just think playing makes you better.”

McGuffey intends to find an opponent to replace Northgate on the schedule. Dalton said he’d already talked with Newark Catholic from near Columbus, Ohio. The talks were still tentative and it’s undecided whether the teams would play here or there, Dalton said.

“It puts us in a tough position,” Dalton said, “but maybe we can turn lemons into lemonade.”

To avoid a repeat of last year’s forfeit, the WPIAL scheduled an open week for both Clairton and Mapletown in Week 1 this season.

An idea was floated months ago among coaches and administrators to switch their matchups. Clairton could’ve played McGuffey, and Mapletown would’ve played Northgate, but no agreement was reached.

Mapletown has since scheduled another opponent.

The WPIAL in April agreed to let four other schools trade their Week 9 nonconference opponents to avoid similar mismatches. On Oct. 25, Riverview will play at Chartiers-Houston and Sto-Rox hosts Imani Christian.

Fulmore shared Northgate’s decision to forfeit with his team Wednesday.

“We’re starting out the year 0-1,” Fulmore said, “but overall in the long run, it’s not going to make much of a difference. It’s an out-of-conference game. I feel like we’re going to be healthier going into our conference games.”

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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