WPIAL, Philadelphia-area football teams separated under PIAA playoff proposal

Wednesday, January 22, 2020 | 8:35 PM

MECHANICSBURG — The PIAA might move Pittsburgh and Philadelphia a little farther apart.

Football teams from the WPIAL and the powerful Philadelphia Catholic League won’t share the same side of the state playoff brackets anymore — if the PIAA approves tentative brackets revealed Wednesday for the 2020 and ’21 football seasons. The updated brackets return the WPIAL and District 12 to opposite sides, a welcomed sight for WPIAL Class 6A and 5A teams.

In the past two seasons, those districts ran into one another four times in the PIAA semifinals.

District 12 includes teams from Philadelphia’s public and Catholic leagues. In this past season, Central Catholic played St. Joseph’s Prep in a Class 6A semifinal, and Gateway faced Archbishop Wood in 5A. Both were at Altoona’s Mansion Park Stadium, which is almost a four-hour drive from Philadelphia.

“Look at some of the matchups we had,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. “We had an awful lot of long trips.”

The brackets revealed Wednesday would swap District 12 with Harrisburg-based District 3. However, the brackets are only tentative, Lombardi stressed. They need to be approved twice more by the board before becoming official.

“A lot of the tweaks come in the second reading,” Lombardi said. “I think it will be interesting to see what comes out of (the PIAA meeting in) March, because in the next couple of months, people will take a good, hard look at it.”

Travel wasn’t the only reason District 12 was shifted back to the other side of the bracket, Lombardi said. At times, the PIAA board just likes to mix things up.

“That rotation every two years is something I think is important,” Lombardi said, “because then you’re not hitting up against the same teams all of the time.”

The release of the state playoff brackets allows the WPIAL to move ahead with its realignment. The WPIAL couldn’t finalize its postseason plans, including the number of qualifiers in each classification, until the PIAA revealed its brackets.

The new brackets have five of the six WPIAL champions entering the state playoffs in the semifinal round (Week 14). The odd team out would be the Class 6A champion, which again enters the state bracket in the quarterfinals (Week 13).

That provides the WPIAL some flexibility.

The WPIAL could chose to field eight-, 12- or 16-team tournaments in Class 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A and A if the playoffs were to start in Week 10, as usual. The WPIAL seems likely to choose the same-sized bracket for Class 5A (18 teams), 4A (22 teams) and 3A (20 teams).

Class 2A has 27 teams, so it might maintain a full 16-team bracket.

Class A has 24 teams and Class 6A has eight.

If the WPIAL inserts any postseason byes, the PIAA wants them “front-loaded” in Week 10, at the beginning of the district playoffs, Lombardi said. A year ago, the WPIAL gave Central Valley and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart byes in the state quarterfinals (Week 12), to the PIAA’s dismay.

“Once you start (the state playoffs), we’d like consistency through (the bracket),” Lombardi said.

Under the tentative brackets, waiting in the semifinals for the WPIAL Class 4A champion would be a team from District 10, 11, 4, 6, 9 or the Pittsburgh City League.

In Class 3A, the WPIAL champion faces a team from District 10, 9, 6 or 5.

In Class 2A, the semifinal opponent will be from District 10, 9, 5 or the City League.

The Class A champion’s opponent will be from District 10, 9 or 5.

District 10 includes Erie. DuBois and Clarion are among the cities in District 9. Somerset, Bedford and Fulton counties form District 5. Altoona and Johnstown are District 6 schools.

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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