Realignment forces changes in top classes of high school football

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The landscape of WPIAL football will look drastically different next season as the number of conferences in Class AAA and AAAA will shrink.

The WPIAL Board of Control approved a new football conference alignment, playoff format and scheduling format Tuesday for the 2012 and '13 seasons. All changes were proposed by the WPIAL football steering committee.

The biggest changes for the next two seasons are:

• Class AAAA and AAA will have only three conferences instead of four. All Class AAAA and AAA conferences will have nine teams, except one AAAA conference that will have eight.

The conferences
  • Conference alignments for WPIAL football in 2012 and '13. Some conference names will be determined at a later date.
  • Class AAAA (26 teams)
    • Section 1: Butler, Central Catholic, Fox Chapel, North Allegheny, North Hills, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley, Shaler.
    • Section 2: Baldwin, Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan, Mt. Lebanon, Penn Hills, Peters Township, Plum, Upper St. Clair, Woodland Hills.
    • Section 3: Altoona, Connellsville, Gateway, Latrobe, Hempfield, Kiski Area, McKeesport, Norwin, Penn-Trafford.
    • Class AAA (27 teams)
      • Section 1: Albert Gallatin, Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold, Thomas Jefferson, Trinity, Uniontown, West Mifflin.
      • Section 2: Ambridge, Blackhawk, Central Valley, Chartiers Valley, Hopewell, Montour, Moon, New Castle, West Allegheny.
      • Section 3: Derry, Franklin Regional, Greensburg Salem, Hampton, Highlands, Hollidaysburg, Indiana, Knoch, Mars.
      • Class AA (35 teams)
        • Century Conference: Burgettstown, Keystone Oaks, Quaker Valley, McGuffey, Seton-LaSalle, South Allegheny, South Fayette, South Park, Steel Valley.
        • Allegheny: Burrell, Deer Lakes, East Allegheny, Ford City, Freeport, Kittanning, Shady Side Academy, Summit Academy, Valley.
        • Midwestern: • -Aliquippa, Beaver, Beaver Falls, Ellwood City, Freedom, Mohawk, New Brighton, Riverside.
        • Interstate: Brownsville, Charleroi, • -Greensburg Central Catholic, • -Jeannette, Mount Pleasant, Southmoreland, Washington, Waynesburg, Yough.
        • • -denotes a Class A team voluntarily playing "up" in Class AA
        • Class A (37 teams)
          • Eastern: Apollo-Ridge, Avonworth, Leechburg, North Catholic, Northgate, Riverview, Springdale, West Shamokin, Wilkinsburg.
          • Big Seven: Laurel, Neshannock, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Rochester, Shenango, South Side Beaver, Sto-Rox, Union, Western Beaver.
          • Tri-County South: Avella, Bentworth, Beth-Center, Carmichaels, Frazier, Geibel, Jefferson-Morgan, Mapletown, West Greene.
          • Black Hills: Brentwood, Bishop Canevin, California, Carlynton, Chartiers-Houston, Clairton, Fort Cherry, @-Imani Christian, Monessen, Serra.
          • @-will play a WPIAL schedule, but school is on WPIAL and PIAA probation and will not be eligible to participate in WPIAL playoffs.

• Woodland Hills, Penn Hills and Plum will move to a Class AAAA conference with teams mostly from the South Hills area, including Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park. Also, Central Catholic and Fox Chapel will move to a conference with teams in the northern suburbs, including North Allegheny, Seneca Valley and North Hills.

• The Class AAAA and AAA playoff fields will continue to have 16 teams in each. Five teams from each conference will make the playoffs, plus one "wild-card" team in each classification. In the past, four teams from each conference made the playoffs.

• Class AA and A will continue to have four teams from each conference make the playoffs.

• The WPIAL will schedule all games in the regular season for all teams, including the season opener, with the exception of one Class A conference, where teams will have to find one game in the season. In the past, most WPIAL teams scheduled their own opener (a non-conference game) and the WPIAL scheduled the rest of the games.

WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said there were a few reasons for the major changes. First, the majority of Class AAAA athletic directors and principals got together and informed the WPIAL that it would rather have three conferences instead of four because Class AAAA had 26 teams. With 27 teams in Class AAA, O'Malley said the football committee naturally thought Class AAA should have only three conferences.

Class AA will have 35 teams and Class A 37 teams, so having three conferences in those classes was not feasible.

"The first two things we look at are the classifications based on enrollment and then try to use geography," O'Malley said. "If we can protect classifications and geography, the third factor would be competitive balance. If we can move some things around to competitively balance sections, we try to do that. But that isn't always possible because of the geography."

By changing to three conferences in Class AAAA, some teams from the old Big East Conference had to move. The football committee decided the most logical thing to do would be to take some of the Allegheny County teams in the Big East and move them into the conference with South Hills area teams. Thus, the moving of Plum, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills into the South Hills area conference, although Plum is a pretty good distance from some of those teams.

As for the scheduling of all games, O'Malley contended many teams -- especially the good ones -- have trouble finding an opponent for the season opener. Starting this upcoming season, all classes will play conference games starting with the season opener.

"It was perceived by the [Class AAAA group] that by not playing conference games until the fourth or fifth week of the season, those games in the first few weeks were not very beneficial and did not have much meaning," O'Malley said.

"The football committee took a look at everything that was submitted and took a look at the wishes of the schools and tried to put everything together the best it could. The impetus for a lot of this came from the coaches, principals and athletic directors."

For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at . Mike White: or 412-263-1975. Twitter @mwhiteburgh.


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