Friday, January 20, 2012

WPIAL Realignment

Every two years, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) re-aligns schools into classifications based on the size of the school. This is a difficult endeavor state-wide and their formula goes something like this:

For Boys sports (like football), the number of boys in grades 9-11. For schools like Central Catholic that are all-boys schools, Central's numbers are counted for boys sports and Oakland Catholic's numbers are counted for girls sports. I am fairly certain that total enrollment does not count towards any sports.

 After the number of eligible participants (ie boys or girls) is determined, the schools are listed in order from most to least across the whole state. The top 25% of schools, regardless of location, are placed into Class AAAA. The next 25% in AAA, the next 25% in AA and the smallest 25% in A. This can create difficulty in the less-populated areas of the state where there might only be one or two Class AAAA teams in the entire region.

 Thankfully, WPIAL (or "District 7") does not have that problem. Though enrollments throughout the WPIAL region have been declining, there are still a healthy number of schools in each classification. However, given the shrinking sizes, some schools did move up or down in classification, prompting the WPIAL to realign their conferences. For the last few years, we have been blessed with a simple formula - four conferences in each of the four classifications, enabling four teams from each conference to make the playoffs. But now, due to the lobbying efforts of principals and athletic directors from AAAA and AAA schools, those two classifications have been realigned into three conferences instead of four. The positive of this is that there will be more conference games for AAAA teams, some of whom went almost an entire month before playing a conference tilt. In AAA, the change was prompted by a decrease in the number of teams from 31 to 27. With 27 teams, they were able to be aligned evenly into 3 9-team conferences.

 For the playoffs, 16 teams will compete in each classification. In AAAA and AAA, the top 5 teams from each conference will make the playoffs and one "Wild Card" sixth team will be chosen by the selection committee. The realignment has created some interesting matchups. Some of the moves make sense for geographic reasons, some make sense for competitive balance reasons, and others make absolutely no sense whatsoever for either reason.


With the move to 3 conferences, the biggest move was the dissolution of the Big East Conference. Due to a new policy in PIAA District 10, Erie McDowell is no longer able to compete in the WPIAL as a football-only member. Central Catholic and Fox Chapel move north to join the remaining 6 teams from the Northern Seven Conference. Penn Hills, Plum, and Woodland Hills move south to join the 6 teams from the Great Southern Conference. Altoona and Kiski Area move east to join the 7 teams from the Foothills Conference.

No teams joined the Quad-A ranks this time around, and the only departure was Erie McDowell. With 26 AAAA teams, it is easy to see the difficult situation the football committee was in. They could have chosen smaller conferences with less meaningful games on the schedule that would've made more geographic sense or opted for larger conferences and more conference games that count towards playoff seedings. The biggest question marks are the inclusion of Penn Hills, Plum, and Woody High in with the Southern teams, but given that the "East" already had 9 schools, there was really no other place to put these teams.

To make it easier to see the re-alignment, teams are colored by their previous conference (Northern Seven, Great Southern, Foothills, Big East).

Conference 1 (North): Butler, North Allegheny, North Hills, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley, Shaler, Central Catholic, Fox Chapel

Conference 2 (South): Baldwin, Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan Mt. Lebanon, Upper St Clair, Peters Township, Penn Hills, Plum, Woodland Hills

Conference 3 (East): Connellsville, Gateway, Latrobe, Hempfield, McKeesport, Norwin, Penn-Trafford, Altoona, Kiski Area


The biggest change in numbers came in Class AAA which lost 4 schools to declining enrollment. The realignment to 3 conferences in AAA was not as drastic, and the main dissolution was of the Big Eight Conference, which lost South Park and McGuffey to declining enrollment numbers. In addition, the traditionally awful Keystone Conference (owners of a 1-43 record in the first round of the playoffs from 2000-2010 until Franklin Regional's run to the semi-finals last year) was split between the southeastern and northeastern conferences. The "Best Conference in Pennsylvania" Parkway Conference remains strong and adds a solid Chartiers Valley program.

 No teams were added to the AAA ranks, but South Park, McGuffey, Valley, and Kittanning all departed to the AA ranks. The "West" conference is obviously still stacked and the Northeast gets stronger with the return of Franklin Regional, who played in the Greater Allegheny conference with Hampton, Highlands, Knoch, Indiana, and Mars for a while during the last decade.

 To make it easier to see the re-alignment, teams are colored by their previous conference (Big Eight, Greater Allegheny, Keystone, Parkway).

 Conference 1 (Southeast): Albert Gallatin, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold, Uniontown, Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Thomas Jefferson, Trinity, West Mifflin 

 Conference 2 (West): Ambridge, Blackhawk, Central Valley, Hopewell, Montour, Moon, New Castle, West Allegheny, Chartiers Valley 

 Conference 3 (Northeast): Hampton, Highlands, Knoch, Indiana, Mars, Derry Area, Franklin Regional, Greensburg Salem, Hollidaysburg 


Class AA saw the addition of 4 teams that moved down in rank from AAA (South Park, McGuffey, Valley, Kittanning) and lost 3 teams to A due to declining enrollment (West Shamokin, Apollo-Ridge, Laurel). The four AA conferences will retain the same conference names and there were some small moves to accommodate the new teams.

 To make it easier to see the re-alignment, teams are colored by their previous conference (Allegheny, Century, Midwestern, Interstate, AAA Transfer).

 Allegheny Conference: Burrell, Deer Lakes, Ford City, Freeport, Shady Side Academy, Summit Academy, East Allegheny, Kittanning, Valley 

 Century Conference: Burgettstown, Keystone Oaks, Quaker Valley, Seton-LaSalle, South Allegheny, South Fayette, Steel Valley, McGuffey, South Park 

 Midwestern Conference: Aliquippa, Beaver, Beaver Falls, Ellwood City, Freedom, Mohawk, New Brighton, Riverside 

 Interstate Conference: Brownsville, Charleroi, Greensburg Central Catholic, Jeanette, Mt Pleasant, Southmoreland, Waynesburg, Yough, Washington 


 Class A saw the addition of 3 schools from AA (West Shamokin, Apollo-Ridge, Laurel). Cornell's school board recently decided to end their football program, which means their last game in school history was a 54-0 stomping by Clairton in the opening round of the WPIAL playoffs. On the positive side, Imani Christian Academy (located on the Pittsburgh/Penn Hills border in the East Hills neighborhood of the city) has begun a football program. They will play a WPIAL schedule but are not eligible to participate in the playoffs until they complete their PIAA probation period. Rumors out of the North Hills are that Vincentian Academy President John Fedko is working on starting a football program, which will likely be added to the Class A fold in the next few years.

 Despite only adding 3 teams, there was a lot of shuffling of other teams around in Class A. The movement here makes the least sense from a competitive balance perspective. The WPIAL Football Committee clearly wanted to make life harder for the Clairton Bears as they added defending Eastern Conference champion Bishop Canevin, California, and Monessen to the Black Hills Conference. The worst conference in Class A, the Tri-County South, lost two of its best programs (Monessen and California) and added perennial bottom-dwellers from the Black Hills Conference (Avella and Bentworth). The new slate of teams in the Tri-County South Conference had a 26-57 record last year. Contrast that with the new Black Hills conference, which posted a 57-24 regular season record and includes 7 teams that made the playoffs.

 To make it easier to see the re-alignment, teams are colored by their previous conference (Big Seven, Black Hills, Eastern, Tri-County South, AA Transfer).

 Big Seven: Neshannock, Rochester, Shenango, South Side Beaver, Sto-Rox, Union, Western Beaver, Laurel, OLSH

 Black Hills: Brentwood, Carlynton, Chartiers-Houston, Clairton, Fort Cherry, Serra Catholic, Bishop Canevin, California, Monessen, Imani Christian

 Eastern: Avonworth, Leechburg, North Catholic, Northgate, Riverview, Springdale, Wilkinsburg, Apollo-Ridge, West Shamokin

 Tri-County South: Beth-Center, Carmichaels, Frazier, Geibel, Jefferson-Morgan, Mapletown, West Greene, Avella, Bentworth

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