Conference structure to blame for routs in WPIAL

By Joey Niklas / For The Pitt News

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Friday nights are supposed to be exciting and competitive during the football season. Bands are playing their respective school’s fight song, teams are competing against their local rivals and parents are cheering on their sons — and sometimes daughters — on the field.

The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL), in many ways, has been failing its players and fans.

The problem starts with WPIAL’s inflexible schedules.

Blowouts have become common over the past several years. Look at this past weekend. Every game in the Class AA Century Conference was a rout: Seton-La Salle beat East Allegheny 36-0, Keystone Oaks beat Carlynton 42-14, Quaker Valley beat Sto-Rox 41-6, South Park beat South Allegheny 41-8 and South Fayette beat Steel Valley 42-14. In addition, there were several other conferences that saw similar results across the Pittsburgh metro area this past Friday.

This Friday features a blowout waiting to happen: Clairton at Serra Catholic. To put this mismatch in perspective, Clairton beat Jeannette 58-14, and Jeannette beat Serra Catholic 53-13. What casual fan will travel to witness mighty Clairton take on Serra Catholic?

The new spread offenses springing up across the WPIAL are one potential cause of these mismatches. The various camps that are hosted by Rivals, Scout and ESPN, which feature the best talent across the nation, could also be to blame. Those factors are developing the stars into even better players, creating a competitive gap manifested under the Friday night lights.

Where the WPIAL is going wrong is scheduling these blowouts in the first place. Most districts or conferences across Pennsylvania and the United States allow their schools to develop their own schedules. For example, the Harrisburg-area school Steelton-Highspire, a Class A team in the Mid Penn Conference, plays several AA and AAA schools.

To accomplish this, the WPIAL would have to restructure its conferences. It would have to create more conferences with fewer teams in each.

Blowouts are still going to happen because of the nature of football itself and because there will still be conference games.

What restructuring the conferences will accomplish is the renewal of several rivalries across the WPIAL. Monessen and Charleroi have met on the football field 99 times and haven’t played each other since 2007, a 28-17 win for the Monessen Greyhounds.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) had a solution in 2009 and 2010. Its solution was to go from a four-classification setup to a six-classification setup. The classification change would’ve set the stage for more out-of-conference games, thus creating more compelling matchups.

The WPIAL refused to go to six classifications because of its agreement with Heinz Field for the four championship games. Heinz Field was unable to hold the championships for six games over a two-day timespan because of obligations with Pitt football, which plays its home games there.

Look at the potential matchups the WPIAL is missing out on: Aliquippa vs. Hopewell, Aliquippa vs. Clairton, Thomas Jefferson vs. Baldwin, Burgettstown vs. Fort Cherry, Washington vs. Trinity, Monessen vs. Charleroi and so on. Most of those are local matchups between old rivals that aren’t being played anymore.

Also, teams struggling to compete could schedule games against other struggling teams and create their own class of competitive games. Those competitive games could potentially allow many struggling schools to rebuild their programs. Avella, for example, was struggling in the Blackhills Conference and was featured in The New York Times in 2012. It petitioned the WPIAL to move to the Tri-County South Conference and made the playoffs in 2013.

So why is the WPIAL so insistent on creating conferences, thus creating entire schedules for teams? Perhaps the WPIAL should reconsider the PIAA’s plan of going to six classifications and holding their championships at a different site. Regardless of what the WPIAL decides to do, the current system is not working. The talent gap between the best and worst schools is getting wider by the year. 

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