Wednesday, November 27, 2013

PIAA Enrollment Cutoffs Announced

This week, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) sent a letter out to school districts regarding the cutoff points for sports classifications. Every two years, schools must submit their enrollment of 9th through 11th graders, which determines how schools are classified by sports. The PIAA then places every school involved in a sport in a list and the top 25% become AAAA schools, the next 25% AAA, the third 25% AA and the smallest 25% Single A schools. Since there are different numbers of schools that participate in different sports (some play football, but not lacrosse for instance), each sport in the PIAA has different cutoff lines.

Schools are realigned every two years, which then trickles down into a realignment of the WPIAL conferences. Since Football is a boys sport, the classifications are based on the enrollment numbers of 9th-11th grade boys in each participating school. Schools had to submit their enrollment figures earlier this year, which the PIAA will make public in the coming weeks.

The new enrollment cutoffs for football, which will impact the 2014 and 2015 Classifications are:

Class A: 1-174
Class AA: 175-299
Class AAA: 300-492
Class AAAA: 493 and up

Schools are not permitted to "play down" in a lower classification, but school districts are permitted by majority decision to vote to "play up" in a higher classification. In the past, Aliquippa, Jeanette and Greensburg Central Catholic have had enrollments that would have put them in Class A but have chosen to play in AA. Recently, the Jeanette school board reversed their past decisions and decided to move down to Class A in 2014. At the time of the last realignment (2012) there were 579 schools that played football statewide with 123 of them residing in District 7 (WPIAL).

Class A saw a decrease in their cutoff point from the previous realignment when the cutoff was at 185. The current enrollment numbers are not public, but based off the 2011 numbers, this change of just 11 students could impact 2 or 3 WPIAL schools (Apollo-Ridge and Carlynton were 182 and Laurel was at 174). Aliquippa, GCC and Jeanette all had Class A-sized enrollments in 2011 but chose to play up in AA. Jeanette will be moving down and rumors have swirled about GCC following suit.  According to the Trib, Riverside will be moving down from AA to A in 2014. Other schools that could be on the boarderline are Shenango (172 in 2011), West Shamokin (169 in 2011) and Neshannock (169 in 2011), though none of those schools have reported an expected change in classification.

There has been a lot of talk about North Catholic/Cardinal Weurl North Catholic's enrollment as it pertains to the PIAA/WPIAL Realignment. The 2013 Class A Champions had an enrollment figure of 98 in 2011, making them the 6th smallest school in the WPIAL. Even though some of the enrollment projections that have been publicized in the alumni newsletter say that the school will double its enrollment in the first year at the new school, the enrollment figures submitted to PIAA were done this year. This means that the school will likely have a low enrollment number as it pertains to the realignment, which should land North Catholic back in Class A for the next two-year cycle.

Another story in Class A will be Geibel Catholic, who had the smallest enrollment in 2011 and had to forfeit games in both 2012 and 2013 due to a lack of players. The popular opinion in the WPIAL media is that the school should take a hiatus from football and focus on playing JV football for two years to build up their program with the goal of returning to WPIAL play in 2016.

The cutoff for Class AA stayed relatively the same (up to 299 from 298). The biggest story in Class AA is that 2013 Champion South Fayette, which had an enrollment of 294 in 2011, and was thought to be moving up to AAA, but their enrollment figures would still put them in AA. South Fayette could voluntarily decide to play up in AA. It was reported in the Trib that Yough will be moving up to AAA while Highlands and Derry will be dropping down to AA.  Aside from that, schools like Valley (294 in 2011) and Keystone Oaks (290 in 2011) could move up to AAA if they saw an increase in enrollment over the last two years, but no reports have come from either school about an expected change in classification.

The cutoff between Class AAA and Quad-A went from 505 in 2011 to 492. The biggest story here is perennial Quad-A disappointment Gateway has seen a decline in enrollment that would move them down to AAA. The school has until December 10 to decide if they are going to play up in Quad-A or move down to AAA. Besides Gateway, there aren't many WPIAL schools that are in danger of having to change classifications here. Albert Gallatin (490 in 2011) and Franklin Regional (482 in 2011) would be the most likely candidates to move up if their enrollment increased. It seems unlikely that many schools will drop from Quad-A to AAA, especially since the cutoff line was decreased. In 2011, the smallest Quad-A schools were McKeesport (515), Plum (517) and Kiski (525) and reports say that their enrollments have stayed above the cutoff line.

The PIAA will likely announce the schools in each classification in mid-December. In the last realignment cycle, the WPIAL announced the football conferences in mid-January. Looking at the structure of the classifications, it seems likely that Quad-A will remain at 3 conferences as the WPIAL prefers schools playing more conference games and it seems unlikely that Quad-A will gain enough schools to necessitate a move to 4 conferences. If no other schools move classifications than those that have been reported, AAA will most likely stay at 3 conferences as well as they are losing 2 from their current 27 schools and gaining 1 for sure with Gateway and South Fayette up in the air. If Gateway and South Fayette both go to AAA, it seems more likely that the conference alignment will be 9-9-10 than 7-7-7-8.

Class AA will likely be a wash with three schools leaving (Riverside and Jeanette to A and Yough to AAA) and two schools coming in (Highlands and Derry). Assuming GCC and Aliquippa stay in AA, this would give AA 34 schools (33 if South Fayette moves to AAA). The conferences would probably see some minor shuffling in order to get at least 8 teams in the Midwestern Conference (which is losing Riverside). Geographically, Quaker Valley would make the most sense. East Allegheny will likely move back to the Interstate Conference to take the place of Jeanette and to make room for Highlands in the Allegheny Conference. Derry will also likely land in the Interstate Conference, taking the place of Yough. These changes would keep 8 teams in the Midwestern Conference, 9 in the Interstate, 9 in the Allegheny and drop the Century Conference to 8. If South Fayette chooses to play up, Washington could be moved from the Interstate back to the Century, which they have ping-ponged between over the last few realignment cycles.

The realignment in Class A will be the most intriguing as Jeanette and Riverside will be joining and (at least according to initial reports) there don't appear to be any schools leaving. Vincentian Academy has been a PIAA member the last two seasons and played a WPIAL schedule (against the Tri-County South) but have not been members of a conference. I believe that their "exhibition" period is now over and they are eligible to join a conference. Imani Christian did not play football this season and will likely be out while Geibel Catholic, as noted earlier, is on the fence. With Imani out, all four Class A conferences had 9 teams last year. Adding in Jeanette, Riverside and Vincentian means that Class A will have either 39 or 38 teams, depending on Geibel's participation. Given the WPIAL's track record of preferring teams to play more conference games, it seems likely that there will still be 4 conferences in Class A next year and we won't get into the quagmire that would be a 5-conference alignment (which the WPIAL has done in the past). Riverside would most naturally fit as the 10th team in the Big Seven Conference while Jeanette will likely be added to the Black Hills Conference. Circle the Jeanette-Clairton game on your calendar for years to come. Despite playing the Tri-County South over the last two years, Vincentian's best geographic fit would probably be as the 10th member of the Eastern Conference. This would give the Big Seven and the Eastern Conference 10 members and eliminate the head-to-head non-conference games the conferences had played the last two seasons. The Black Hills would also have 10 under this format with the Tri-County South having 9, though California has been seeking to return to the TCS since they were moved two years ago. This would be a good contingency for the WPIAL to consider, even if Geibel plays next year. If Geibel doesn't play, then California's move would give both the Black Hills and the TCS 9 schools.

The 4-conference model is the best for Class A, but just for the fun of speculation, here's a look at how a 5-conference alignment could look. Back in 2004 and 2005, Class AA had 5 conferences, with the fifth being the Tri-County North which included Laurel, Neshannock, Riverside, Shenango and Union. All of those teams are in Class A now, so they could easily be grouped back together in a realignment of the Tri-County North. Here's a look at what I came up with (remember, this is purely speculation):
Big Seven (7): Avella, Bishop Canevin, OLSH, South Side Beaver, Sto-Rox, Vincentian, Western Beaver
Black Hills (8): Brentwood, Carlynton, Chartiers-Houston, Clairton, Fort Cherry, Jeanette, Monessen, Serra Catholic
Eastern (8): Apollo-Ridge, Avonworth, Leechburg, Northgate, Riverside, Springdale, West Shamokin, Wilkinsburg
Tri-County North (7): Cardinal Weurl North Catholic, Laurel, Neshannock, Riverside, Rochester, Shenango, Union
Tri-County South (8): Bentworth, Beth-Center, California, Carmichaels, Frazier, Jefferson-Morgan, Mapletown, West Greene

The way I see it, Bishop Canevin, Vincentian, Avonworth, and Northgate are interchangeable between the Big Seven and the Eastern Conference. Canevin and Avonworth have played in both the Big Seven and Eastern Conferences, and they would be geographic fits for both. If Geibel decides to play, the only geographic fit for them is the Tri-County South, but this could easily be changed by keeping California in the Black Hills and moving Carlynton to the Big Seven Conference with Bishop Canevin, as they are relatively close geographically. As I said, the 4-conference model is preferable, but it's a fun mental exercise to try to realign the teams into 5 conferences.

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