2 WPIAL football realignment proposals would cut down on travel

Thursday, January 9, 2020 | 6:03 PM

WPIAL football teams will play games closer to home next season, one way or another.

The WPIAL revealed two football realignment options Wednesday night, one that keeps the current six-classification format and another that would change things drastically. But either option would eliminate many of the long bus rides schools complained about the past four seasons.

“I commend the WPIAL,” said Central Valley coach Mark Lyons, whose team traveled 150 miles roundtrip to Waynesburg last season. “They did their due diligence, and they listened. For a change, the coaches had somewhat of a voice.”

His team’s longest trip next fall might be less than 25 miles.

Football coaches and school administrators attended an informational meeting Wednesday at North Hills Middle School to see what the WPIAL had planned for next season. The WPIAL presented two proposals, and schools received a survey Thursday asking which they support.

The first proposal — “status quo” — keeps the current format with six classifications divided by enrollment. The key change is nonconference opponents will be handpicked by the WPIAL rather than assigned at random — a target for criticism in recent years.

The tentative schedules revealed Wednesday included considerably less travel. Also, most nonconference games would be grouped at the start of the season rather than scattered throughout.

Otherwise, WPIAL football would look much like it did the past four seasons.

“Option 1, in totality, I don’t think it’s a bad schedule,” said Kiski Area athletic director John Peterman, who attended Wednesday’s meeting.

The second proposal — “regionalization” — would radically divide teams into 12 conferences based primarily on geography. Each 10-team conference would include schools from more than one classification. This option would reduce travel time but forces teams to compete against schools of different sizes.

For example, Class 3A teams Yough and Southmoreland could share a conference with 4A opponents Belle Vernon, Greensburg Salem, Laurel Highlands and Plum, as well as 5A opponents Connellsville and Latrobe. With 10-team conferences, there is no need for nonconference games in Proposal 2.

A points system would determine playoff qualifiers in Proposal 2. A victory over a team in a higher classification would earn more points than defeating a team in a lower classification. Teams also earn bonus points for each victory their opponents collect.

If schools overwhelmingly support one of the two proposals, the WPIAL will adopt that approach, WPIAL associate executive director Amy Scheuneman said. The proposals were tailored using feedback from a nine-question survey collected in November.

“You knew that whatever they put up here wasn’t going to satisfy everybody,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “But if you ask: ‘Did they follow the data?’ I think they did. Did it meet the requests of the people who answered the survey? It looks like it did.”

The WPIAL will solicit feedback from schools until Monday. The WPIAL football committee meets Jan. 16, and the WPIAL board will finalize the realignment Jan. 20.

“I think, for the betterment of the group, Proposal 1 works better,” Scheuneman said. “But we’re going to get six champions and six tournaments either way. So if the group decides to go with Proposal 2, that’s fine with me, too.”

Scheuneman said other options were considered, such as a five-classification format with Class 6A and 5A combined. Or going a step further and combining 4A with 3A and 2A with A.

Those ideas were ruled out.

In the November survey, 57.8% of schools favored keeping the status quo with six classifications. Scheuneman called that “a little bit shocking” because critics have lobbied passionately for a return to four classes.

On another survey question, 55.2% favored a more regional approach to aligning conferences. For that reason, the WPIAL presented the second option.

The conference alignments and schedules presented Wednesday were only tentative, she stressed.

Schools will continue to schedule their own Week Zero games under both proposals. Other details, such as the number of playoff qualifiers and sites for championship games, won’t be decided until after the PIAA releases updated state playoff brackets.

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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