Struggling Butler football program leaving WPIAL for independent schedule
Friday, January 3, 2020 | 1:03 PM
Worried that years of losing will force its program to someday fold, Butler decided it won’t play WPIAL football next season and instead will put together an independent schedule.
The school notified the WPIAL on Friday, Butler athletic director Bill Mylan said. The team endured its second consecutive 0-10 season this fall and hasn’t had a winning season since 1997 despite the third-largest enrollment in the WPIAL behind only North Allegheny and Seneca Valley.
Butler’s record is 15-78 in the past decade and 40-149 since 2000.
“We feel like we’ve struggled in football for so long that we have a culture problem,” Mylan said. “In attempting to try to change that culture, you have to experience a little bit of success. We’re hoping to field a more-competitive schedule by going independent.”
In a letter posted on the school’s website, Butler superintendent Brian White said the district will provide added resources to the program including the creation of a “coordinator of coaching” position as a liaison between the area’s youth football programs and school-sanctioned teams.
“The program has been in steady decline for two decades,” White said. “The culture went from expecting to compete in the playoffs to expecting a season with more wins than losses to now a hope of a victory or two in a season.”
Mylan said Butler will schedule a core of games against teams from District 10, which largely includes schools in Mercer, Venango, Crawford, Forest, Warren and Erie counties. However, Butler would prefer to play a few WPIAL schools as well, particularly Hempfield and Norwin, if those teams were able.
Butler already has a Week Zero game scheduled with Kiski Area, Mylan said.
Butler’s administration has looked into the football program’s future for months. Its original idea was to move the football team from the WPIAL to District 10, but that request was denied by the WPIAL board in December.
Letting a school move just one sport to a different PIAA district would set a bad precedent, WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said. Butler wasn’t interested in removing all of its sports teams from the WPIAL.
By taking the independent route, Butler can still play District 10 schools, but won’t be eligible for any football playoffs.
“We tried a lot of different things over the years to try to turn the program around,” said Mylan, Butler’s athletic director for 10 years. “We went through a number of coaches, but I honestly don’t feel that coaching was the issue. We really feel like it’s a culture thing now. Kids are so used to losing.”
Coach Eric Christy and his staff will remain in place. Butler has had seven different coaches in the past 21 years.
“We are making an intentional decision to stop churning coaches,” White said. “Coach Eric Christy has been our head coach for two years. We haven’t won a game. However, I think it is a mistake to change head coaches. We need to establish stability to develop a sound culture.”
Butler’s departure leaves the WPIAL with eight teams in the largest classification: Baldwin, Canon-McMillan, Central Catholic, Hempfield, Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny, Norwin and Seneca Valley. Mylan said he’s optimistic that the team could return to WPIAL football in the near future.
“This has been the biggest equation I’ve tried to figure out in my AD career because we do very well in all of our other sports,” Mylan said. “Just two years ago we had 18 varsity teams make the playoffs. But we have to get some of those athletes from other sports teams to play football.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .