When the WPIAL football committee met to divide its teams into new conferences, its members had maps that marked each school with a dot.
“You put a circle around the dots,” WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said.
This year, the circles got a lot larger.
The WPIAL realigns every two years, but this realignment was more complicated because the PIAA added classifications to a number of team sports — drastically altering the WPIAL's landscape.
Those updated conference and section alignments for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years were revealed Monday by the WPIAL Board of Directors, which voted to approve them for all sports. Team schedules will follow in the next few weeks, O'Malley said.
Football, which expanded from four classifications to six, faced among the most drastic adjustments.
“Once (Carmichaels superintendent John) Menhart started drawing the circles around things, they came to a consensus fairly quickly,” O'Malley said, but accepted that not everyone will like them.
The new WPIAL alignments will add travel time and end some longtime rivalries. Some 124 miles apart, Canon-McMillan and Altoona share a Class 6A football section. North Allegheny and North Hills are in separate football conferences for the first time since 1963.
“It's not perfect,” O'Malley said.
Another criticism is that some sections are far more competitive than others, a factor the WPIAL did not address.
“We talked about that before we started,” said Kiski Area athletic director Dan O'Neil, chairman of the WPIAL basketball committee. “Someone asked: ‘What's our purpose here? To balance the sections or look at them geographically?' The answer was, we've got to set them up geographically. And after we set them up geographically, if we could then balance them competitively, we would do that as a secondary component. But that never happened — and there are some ridiculous ones, there's no question.”
For instance in Class 4A boys basketball, the committee kept this season's strong Section 2-AAA nearly intact (with New Castle and Beaver Falls) and added Quaker Valley.
The basketball committee was the last to finish Wednesday, O'Neil said, after nearly three hours.
“It was impossible,” O'Neil said. “I just don't think (six classifications) works. With the bigger schools, it's not too bad. But once you get down into the smaller schools, they're really spread out. If you look at Apollo-Ridge (girls), they play nobody locally. They're on the road every night.”
In Class 2A girls, Section 1 includes parts of four counties, from Washington to Lawrence.
“That's absurd,” O'Neil said, “but that's the parameters we were given and we worked within those. There are some tough sections out there. What we got done was the best we could do, but I don't think we were satisfied in saying this was the best thing for all of these schools. I think we are going to have to look at some other options down the road.”
In Class 6A football, the past six WPIAL titles were won by teams now in Section 1: Central Catholic, Pine-Richland and North Allegheny. The committee could have moved Central to Section 2 but chose to keep the Vikings in the old Quad North and added Penn Hills.
“I'd heard rumors that we were going there,” said John Peterman, Penn Hills football coach and athletic director. “I think they renamed that the AFC North.”
Unlike in years past, the steering committees had less leeway because the WPIAL predetermined the number of sections in each classification — not the committees. North Allegheny athletic director Bob Bozzuto, chairman of the baseball committee, asked to add sections but was denied.
“My committee members did not like being told what we were to do,” Bozzuto said, “because the bottom line is we are responsible to provide the very best for the student-athletes and the school.”
Note: The WPIAL will have 122 football teams next season with the addition of Imani Christian and Cornell in Class A. The WPIAL board voted Monday to deny City League team Westinghouse's request to join as an associate member in football. For scheduling purposes, the WPIAL prefers an even number of teams.
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