Gorman: Over the river, through the tunnels they will go
Quad Central foes Mt. Lebanon and Woodland Hills are heading in opposite directions Friday, but both will break the unwritten rules of driving in and around Pittsburgh.
They will go over bridges and through tunnels, all in the same trip!
So long as their school buses don't try to make a Pittsburgh Left ...
Where Woodland Hills is exploring roundabout routes to get across the Mon in going from Turtle Creek to Peters Township amid rush-hour traffic, Mt. Lebanon will travel through the Fort Pitt and Squirrel Hill tunnels to play at Penn Hills.
“I teased Tim O'Malley,” Mt. Lebanon athletic director John Grogan said of the WPIAL executive director, “If we have to go through two tunnels to get to a game, we should automatically get three points.”
All joking aside, the conference realignment that placed schools from the East and South Hills together in the Quad Central has made transportation a challenge this fall.
Mt. Lebanon and Woodland Hills are planning to leave their stadiums three hours before kickoff, just in case the Parkway East turns into a parking lot.
“You need to be cognizant of the travel time,” Grogan said. “We have to leave earlier than normal, simply because you don't know what you'll get with the Squirrel Hill Tunnel on a Friday afternoon.”
The realignment also has increased competition. Penn Hills and Peters Township, tied for fifth place in the Quad Central, are fighting for the final playoff berth.
The final two weeks of the regular season will determine whether they make the playoffs or hold their breath hoping to qualify as the 16th team.
Grogan is among those who advocated going from four conferences to three, primarily because it reduced the number of nonconference games and made every week matter.
“The WPIAL has taken some hits on this,” Grogan said, “but the Quad-A group, it was at our request to go to three conferences.
“The way it was with four, half your games didn't matter. Legitimately, you could win two games and make the playoffs. We're playing eight games that truly matter now.”
Where perennial powers like North Allegheny, Gateway and Mt. Lebanon remain atop the standings, long time struggling teams like Fox Chapel, Latrobe and Plum are still struggling.
“There are so many arguments over geography, natural rivalries, competition between big and small schools,” Grogan said, “but I don't know if they could've come up with a perfect configuration.”
There's no perfect solution, but this is one that could have been avoided: The sixth-place team from the Quad East likely will have the most Gardner points, which is how the WPIAL will determine the wild-card qualifier.
Instead of rewarding the best team available, the WPIAL will pick one from the weakest conference.
That's when the sixth-place team from the Quad Central will wish that it really was getting three points for traveling through two tunnels.