WPIAL adopts ‘open tournament’ for basketball playoffs allowing all teams to participate

Monday, December 21, 2020 | 4:57 PM

WPIAL basketball teams can forget about playoff scenarios this winter.

Everybody’s already in.

The basketball playoffs will be an open tournament and include all teams willing to participate, the WPIAL board decided Monday. Picking playoff qualifiers would be a difficult task if covid-related cancellations leave section standings unbalanced, so this decision removes that worry.

Teams will have a window in early February to notify the WPIAL if they plan to participate in the postseason, said WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman.

“Not knowing how many (section) games are going to be played, this will allow schools to just compete, to play and then enter the tournament at the end of February,” Scheuneman said.

Including every team adds only one additional round to the brackets. The playoffs start Feb. 27 and conclude with finals March 12, 13 and 15.

Tentatively, pairings will be released Feb 24. Higher seeds can host playoff games through the semifinal round as long as their facilities meet WPIAL criteria.

The championship venue remains in question, but Pitt’s Petersen Events Center hasn’t been ruled out, Scheuneman said.

The WPIAL will not mandate mask use in the playoffs for schools claiming an exemption under current state guidelines. To participate in the postseason, schools “must agree to play teams with varying mask policies,” Scheuneman said.

Any team that refuses to play an unmasked opponent in the postseason would be forced to forfeit. However, Scheuneman said the WPIAL will wait to see what policy changes occur in the coming weeks and will better define its mask stance in February.

“This is Dec. 21. We’re talking about Feb. 27,” she said. “We have some time. That may change.”

The WPIAL board met online Monday to finalize a number of decisions for the regular season and postseason while interscholastic sports are in the midst of a three-week “pause” ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration.

The shutdown ends Jan. 4 if not extended.

Scheuneman said the WPIAL remains hopeful teams will resume their seasons then. At the very least, she would like to see teams be able to restart workouts.

“We definitely want kids to get back in the gyms and pools and everything else for the health and well-being of them,” Scheuneman said. “Whether we play games or not, it’s important for them to stay active and involved.”

Among its other decisions Monday, the WPIAL board added a subsection round to the individual wrestling tournament. Wrestlers will start their postseason there, advance to the section tournament and then to the WPIAL individual championship.

The move allows every school to qualify one wrestler in each weight class while also following a PIAA directive to limit brackets to eight athletes or fewer.

Championships for rifle, gymnastics and competitive cheer were pushed back.

Rifle championships were delayed to Feb. 16 for team competition and Feb. 18 for the individual championship. The gymnastics finals are Feb. 26-27.

Competitive cheer championships are March 13 at Hempfield. Teams will arrive, compete and leave, Scheuneman said, with awards presented virtually.

The WPIAL still needs to set qualifying standards for its swimming and diving championships. That sport’s steering committee will meet in early January to come up with those numbers.

The WPIAL has no championship site determined for swimming, Scheuneman said. The availability of Pitt’s Trees Pool remains uncertain.

The WPIAL planned to inform school administrators of the changes by email Monday night.

The alterations to the basketball playoffs were the most drastic. The WPIAL anticipates a number of section games could be declared “no contest” because the games were canceled over covid-19 concerns or the teams couldn’t agree on a mask policy.

The WPIAL will encourage teams to play as many section games as they can and will recognize section champions, if possible.

The tournament brackets will be seeded by the WPIAL basketball steering committee as traditionally done, but the brackets themselves have a different look.

In Class 5A girls for example, if all 27 schools chose to participate, the top five seeds would earn first-round byes in the 32-team bracket. The team seeded No. 27 would face the sixth seed.

In Round 2, the No. 1 seed would face the winner of Nos. 16 and 17.

The open tournament approach was recommended by the WPIAL basketball committee, but it is only a one-year commitment.

“After discussion, everybody realized it’s kind of the only way to look at this at this time,” Scheuneman said. “We are able to do this because no classification has more than 32 teams. That’s not always the case.”

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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