WPIAL football conferences to have new look in Class 6A, 5A

Monday, December 18, 2017 | 8:15 PM

There will be three Class 5A conferences in WPIAL football next season but just one in 6A.

That we now know.

How many teams from each will make the playoffs? That we won't know for awhile.

The WPIAL board of directors Monday approved a new framework for next school year that established the number of conferences or sections for each sport. For football, the WPIAL roughly divided each classification into eight-team conferences.

There are nine teams in Class 6A football next season and 24 in Class 5A.

“The intent is to arrive at some consistency across the board,” WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said. “It's a different approach than we've had in the past (before six-class expansion).”

Class 4A (16 teams) and 3A (17 teams) will have two football conferences each in 2019 and 2020. Class 2A (31 teams) will have four conferences. Class A (23 teams) will have three.

With that framework now set, the WPIAL's football steering committee will use those parameters and start placing the teams into geographic-based conferences next month. Those new conferences will be revealed at the next WPIAL board meeting Jan. 15.

However, questions about the playoff picture remain unanswered.

The WPIAL will not decide how many football teams qualify for the postseason until the PIAA reveals updated state playoff brackets, O'Malley said. Those aren't expected until sometime in January.

“We don't know where we plug in,” O'Malley said.

In the past two seasons, the Class 6A, 5A and 4A champions entered the PIAA football playoffs in Week 13 (state quarterfinals). Class 3A, 2A and A joined a week later for the state semifinals.

If that changes, the WPIAL must adjust.

With only nine teams in Class 6A, it's possible the PIAA might make the WPIAL champion enter the state playoffs a week earlier in a sub-regional. But regardless, with so few 6A teams, the WPIAL likely will reduce the current eight-team playoff bracket to four or six teams.

Conversely, it's possible Class 5A could increase to a 16-team bracket, O'Malley said. Class 5A jumps from 18 teams to 24.

“Those are all variables we're going to have to look at,” O'Malley said, “and it's all dependent on (the PIAA) brackets.”

In years past, each sport-specific steering committee decided the number of sections or conferences. But since the PIAA added classifications in 2016, the WPIAL strategic planning committee makes those decisions instead.

The framework approved Monday answered a number of questions. Among them, would Class 5A football have three conferences or four?

The WPIAL could have chosen four six-team conferences that might have been more geographically friendly, but the board wanted to remain consistent, O'Malley said.

Eleven of the 15 conferences will have eight teams. The four others will have seven or nine.

Combined, there will be 120 WPIAL football teams next season. With an even number, the WPIAL will be able to create a nine-game schedule for all schools. To make it work, however, there will be crossover games between classifications. For example, each Class 6A team must play one 5A team.

The WPIAL won't release schedules until after the PIAA brackets are revealed, O'Malley said.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

click me