Opinions differ on more classifications for high school football
A couple of years from now, Seneca Valley, North Allegheny or Hempfield might celebrate a WPIAL Class AAAAAA football championship.
Too many A's?
If an idea with roots in Brookville gains statewide support, high school football would expand from the current four-class format to six with the addition of AAAAA and AAAAAA.
WPIAL Class AAAA champion Pine-Richland would join Class 5A. Class AAA champion Central Valley and Class AA champion South Fayette also would jump a class. As currently configured, teams from the Class AA Midwestern would be scattered over three classifications.
But for now, that remains a very big “if.” Around Southwestern Pennsylvania, the trendy expansion idea has tepid support.
“Most people, from what I hear, are not in favor of six classifications,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. “I can say that pretty resoundingly because I've talked to a lot of the coaches.”
Around the state, the sentiment might differ. This latest plan to expand classifications (and shrink the season to 15 weeks) was crafted by Bob Tonkin, who chairs the football steering committee in District 9, a region that includes Brookville, Clarion and DuBois. The PIAA has yet to consider the proposal formally. But the idea likely will be discussed some time in the coming months, maybe as soon as next week's PIAA Board of Directors meeting.
It would take three votes at separate PIAA meetings to enact the expansion, which couldn't start until 2016 at the earliest.
“This idea has been floated forever,” WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said. “And every year that it's floated, it gets rejected at the board level.”
Adding football recently was proposed in 2003, '06 and '09, the PIAA debated an expansion to five, six or even eight classes. Each time, the plan was rejected. The last expansion was 1980, when Quad-A was added.
Still, this latest effort has drawn attention.
“I'm an old-school guy,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said, “but we've got a lot of younger guys that see the upside of going to six is that more teams get an opportunity to win a WPIAL championship.”
Using current enrollment numbers and the class parameters in Tonkin's written proposal, Woodland Hills would join Class 5A.
The PIAA will collect and use new enrollment numbers for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. But if nothing changes, the WPIAL would have 10 teams in Class 6A, and 20 in the next class down.
Among Tonkin's selling points are a season shortened one week and a smaller enrollment gap between the largest and smallest schools in a classification. For example, McKeesport (526 boys) has half the enrollment of Seneca Valley (1,088), yet both compete in Class AAAA.
But even with six classifications, disparity issues could remain, said Mars coach and athletic director Scott Heinauer, a member of the WPIAL and PIAA boards.
“If you just went over the (enrollment) line, you're not going to be a happy guy. You're still the little guy on the street,” Heinauer said. “There's always going to be somebody happy and somebody unhappy.”
With six classifications, the smallest class could include Aliquippa, Clairton, Jeannette and others, but teams still could voluntarily play up. The WPIAL board discussed the proposal last month and identified some concerns. Among them, with six championships, the WPIAL couldn't play them all at Heinz Field, regular-season scheduling would become more complicated, and the conferences would become less geographically friendly.
If the 10 largest schools formed one Class 6A conference, either Butler or Connellsville would travel 80 minutes to reach the other.
“There are a lot of negatives to it,” Cherpak said, “and I really don't see what the positives would be for the members of the WPIAL. You would have two more champions, but in reality what are you gaining?”
In fact, O'Malley said, it impacts gender equity.
The PIAA determines the number of classifications in each sport by dividing the total teams by 175. Tonkin's proposal would reduce that number to 97 but only for football.
If that 97-team formula was applied to all sports, baseball, softball and basketball would increase from four classifications to seven. Track and field would jump from two classes to six.
Only under that unlikely across-the-board scenario should the WPIAL support additional classifications, O'Malley said.
“If in fact a policy is developed that is going to be applied across the board, our people are probably going to vote in favor of that,” O'Malley said. “Although it wouldn't be advantageous for football, if it is applicable to all sports then we would be hard pressed to vote against it.”
Kevin Gorman contributed. Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.