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Piecing together WPIAL football pairings not an easy process

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 9:46 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Penn Hills' Mike Ames tries to bring down Upper St. Clair's Mac Pope during the first half Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Yuhas-McGinley Stadium.

It's too early for March Madness, but longtime athletic director Randy Rovesti will use this weekend to fill out brackets.

Instead of Kentucky and Kansas, he'll debate Central Catholic and Upper St. Clair.

“I'll sit around all day Sunday and play with the brackets,” said Rovesti, who's on the committee that assembles the WPIAL football playoffs.

The pairings are announced Monday night at the DoubleTree in Green Tree, where coaches and administrators will crowd into a ballroom to see them revealed. But the brackets are assembled earlier that day by a 14-member steering committee in a conference room at the WPIAL office.

The group starts at 11 a.m. When they're finished, often around 5:30 p.m., all four 16-team brackets are complete.

“It's not an easy process,” said Rovesti, a committee member for two decades.

He'll bring his rough drafts, but he knows they're certain to change as the group debates.

“I'll go in with my thoughts,” he said, “then we sit together and try to iron it out. That's the beauty of the thing. Everybody has a different idea.

“You listen to the arguments and come to a consensus.”

There are other ways to organize playoffs. The WPIAL could adopt a bracket similar to what the PIAA uses, in which teams are slotted into predetermined positions. But having a committee objectively seed teams provides a more fair tournament, said executive director Tim O'Malley.

“Every year, conferences are different, so (using a predetermined bracket) is blatantly unfair,” said O'Malley, noting how the second-place team from one could be better than the champion of another.

“There's nothing like the anticipation for the 7 o'clock announcement,” Rovesti said. “I enjoy it, or I wouldn't do it. And afterward, everyone tells you what (the brackets) should have been.

“You try to do what's right, but it's an inexact science.”

O'Malley oversees the committee meeting, which each year includes a bit of reflection.

“We look back (at last year's playoffs) to see if we got the final four correct,” said Rovesti, who's in his first year at Gateway after years at Norwin. “The majority of the time there's at least three out of four — if not all four — so we're doing something right.”

This was true again last season. At least three of the top four seeds in each classification reached the semifinals. In Class AA, all four made it.

That's the committee's goal, O'Malley said.

The group wants “brackets that will advance to the semifinals the top four teams.”

The toughest bracket to seed this year will be Class A. After Sto-Rox (9-0) and North Catholic (9-0), the next six teams might be arranged in almost any order.

That group includes five-time defending champion Clairton (8-1), which finished second on tiebreakers in the Black Hills but might draw the No. 3 seed.

When comparing teams, the committee will consider records, points, schedule strength and health, Rovesti said. But playoff pedigree also helps.

“If teams have historically proven to be very competitive in the tournament, that might weigh into the decision of where you want to seed them this year,” O'Malley said.

Arranging the top seeds in Class AAAA won't be simple, with Central Catholic, Upper St. Clair and McKeesport undefeated. The No. 1 seed in Class AAA could be Thomas Jefferson or West Allegheny.

“Every year there's a challenge,” O'Malley said. “Some of them will work themselves out, but some of them will be difficult.”

But if the committee's choices leave anyone unhappy, it's clear where blame should be laid.

“If anybody complains, (Brentwood principal) Jason Olexa, the new member on committee, it was his idea,” O'Malley said with a laugh. “Go see him.”

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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