WPIAL sets conference, section alignment for next 2 fall seasons

Monday, February 19, 2024 | 4:19 PM

The WPIAL wanted more competitive balance in its conferences and sections, so some teams might have a longer drive next season as a result.

Updated fall sports alignments for the 2024 and ’25 seasons were approved Monday by the WPIAL board, giving teams a first look at their upcoming opponents. Geography remained the primary factor for grouping most teams, but the WPIAL made an effort in certain situations to balance out the strength of the sections, WPIAL administrator Vince Sortino said.

That means some good teams got moved around.

“Rather than stack one section up, they were moved over into another,” Sortino said, “… so that there weren’t four stud teams in one section (while) the champ in Section 2 couldn’t even win a game in Section 4.”

However, Sortino said there was a limit to how far the WPIAL steering committees could go.

“They were trying to eliminate a little of that (imbalance),” he said. “If you went full blown with that, there would be teams going all over the place, back and forth.”

Realignment is a process the WPIAL completes every two years. It starts in the fall of odd-numbered years when the PIAA collects updated enrollment numbers and splits the teams into evenly divided classifications. The WPIAL then takes those classification lists and asks its sport-specific steering committees to further divide the teams into conferences or sections.

The section alignments released Monday were for football, soccer, cross country, golf, field hockey, girls tennis and girls volleyball.

WPIAL schedules will be released over a three-week span starting with boys and girls soccer Feb. 27. Football will be the last of the fall schedules released March 14.

There were a number of instances Monday where the WPIAL moved a team from one section to another in pursuit of competitive balance. One football example saw the WPIAL move McKeesport into a Class 4A conference with Hampton, Indiana, Knoch, Mars and West Mifflin, rather than one with Thomas Jefferson.

Class 5A football has a different look next season with Aliquippa, Armstrong, Kiski Area and Latrobe joining the classification. The Allegheny Six remained unchanged, but the two other Class 5A conferences were reworked with Plum, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills on the move.

Sortino said the WPIAL took suggestions from a subcommittee tasked with finding ways to boost competitive balance in the scheduling process. One recommendation was to arrange football conferences based on competitiveness, not only geography.

The subcommittee also suggested looking closely at the nonconference matchups scheduled by the WPIAL, it recommended grouping conference football games near the end of the regular-season schedule and wanted the WPIAL football committee to reexamine the current playoff qualifying system.

The playoff format for next football season isn’t set, including the number of qualifiers from each classification. The WPIAL must first wait for the PIAA to finalize state playoff brackets.

Two schools, Aliquippa and Butler, want the football alignment released Monday changed.

The Aliquippa football team, which was forced up to Class 5A under the PIAA competitive-balance rule, was placed in a conference with Fox Chapel, North Hills, Penn Hills, Pine-Richland, Plum and Shaler. However, Quips coach Mike Warfield said Monday that the school still intended to pursue legal action against the PIAA in hopes of avoiding the promotion to 5A entirely.

“Everybody knows how we feel about it,” Warfield said. “It’s totally unfair playing up three classifications.”

In another development, the WPIAL included Butler among its Class 6A football teams for next season, rekindling a long-running dispute between the school and the PIAA.

Butler athletic director Bill Mylan previously said the football team would opt out of WPIAL competition and play an independent schedule next fall, a stance he reiterated Monday. But Sortino said the WPIAL intends to issue Butler a conference schedule for next season and expected the team to fulfill it.

This latest dispute stems from the interpretation of an agreement reached last March. That agreement resolved a lawsuit Butler filed against the PIAA in an attempt to play football in PIAA District 10.

Updated alignments for winter and spring sports will be released later in the year, possibly in April for winter sports and July for spring, Sortino said. The WPIAL can’t move forward with those realignments until after the state championships in each sport.

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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