Varsity Notes: Schedule quirks? Blame computer



After his team's opening-night loss to Penn Hills, Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render questioned why the WPIAL had scheduled his team to play Penn Hills on the road two consecutive seasons.

Some North Allegheny fans have wondered why the Tigers had to play Seneca Valley two consecutive seasons on the road?

Some other coaches and fans wonder about schedules.

So, who does make the WPIAL football schedules and how are they made?

The answer is a computer with a small touch of human intervention.

For decades, the WPIAL scheduled all games for teams except the season opener. That was left up to each school to schedule a game against any team they wanted, in the WPIAL or outside. But a few years ago, the WPIAL changed and started scheduling all nine regular-season games, including the opener, with conference play starting the first week.

Pat Mannarino, superintendent of the North Hills School District and a member of the WPIAL Board of Directors, now makes the football schedules with the help of WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley. They let a computer program make the matchups and the order of the games. However, Mannarino and O'Malley give the computer program parameters to keep rivalry games for the final week of the regular season. They also give the computer parameters to give every team four home games and five road games, or vice versa.

"The games are randomly generated through the computer," said Mannarino. "What's not random are the end-of-the-season games and also what is not random is Tim and I sitting down and deciding what conferences will play crossover games for the non-conference games. But the matchups in those non-conference games are random."

There is a simple reason a team might play a team on the road two years in a row. The WPIAL realigns conferences every two years and basically does schedules on a two-year basis. Yes, a team might play an opponent two consecutive years on the road, but during a four-year period a team will always have two home games and two road games against an opponent, no matter the order.

"We do the best we can over a two-year cycle to get every team five home games and four road games and the opposite the next year," said O'Malley.

Mannarino said, "If you try and tweak just a few games because a team plays someone on the road two years in a row, it can blow up the whole schedule. Over two years, you get a home and away game against every team."

The WPIAL does not look at strength of opponents, either. For example, North Allegheny has three tough opponents to open the season -- Seneca Valley, Pine-Richland and Central Catholic. Then the schedule gets easier for North Allegheny. How could that be?

"The NFL might factor in strength of schedule, but we have 124 teams. We can't do that," said O'Malley. "It's unrealistic for us to go and look at every team and know who is going to be good the next year."

The WPIAL usually does schedules and conference alignments on a two-year basis. This is the first year of a two-year cycle, but the league will have to revamp the schedules and conferences some next year because Ford City and Kittanning are closing to form Armstrong High School. Ford City and Kittanning are Class AA schools and Armstrong Central will be Class AAA.

Where are the big games?

Looking for big football games in the WPIAL this weekend? You'll have a hard time finding them.

There are weeks when there are a cluster of big games and then weeks with a dud of a schedule. This week is certainly the latter.

Here is some proof: There are 66 games this weekend involving WPIAL and City League teams. Only 17 (26 percent) are matching 1-0 teams.

Streakers

The WPIAL has the best and the worst of streaks.

South Fayette and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic are tied for the longest winning streaks in the state at 17. But Shaler is tied for the longest losing streak in the state. The Titans have lost 23 in a row. Holy Cross High in Dunmore also has lost 23 in a row.

Aliquippa has by far the longest regular-season winning streak in the state at 43 games. The Quips' last regular-season loss was to Beaver Falls, 21-14, in 2009.

Big cross-country meet

A number of the top cross-country runners in the WPIAL will be running at Saturday's Red White & Blue Classic at Schenley Park.

The annual event has boys and girls races. But one top WPIAL runner who won't be competing is Shaler senior Brianna Schwartz.

Arguably the top distance runner in WPIAL history, Schwartz won the Red White & Blue two years ago as a sophomore. But like last year, Schwartz has elected not to participate. She said the reason is because she does not want to run competitively too early because she hopes to participate in the Foot Locker National Championship Dec. 14 in San Diego.

Increase in football players

The numer of kids playing high school football in this country had gone down every year from 2009 through 2012. But there was in increase in football players in 2013.

According to a survey of states by the National Federation of State High School Associations, there were 6,607 more football players last year than in 2012. But still, there were about 15,000 fewer players in the U.S. last year than in 2008.

Overall, there were a record 7.8 million boys and girls playing high school sports last year. The top five boys sports in terms of participation remained unchanged in 2013-14 with football first, followed by outdoor track and field, basketball, baseball and soccer.

For girls, outdoor track and field was first, followed by basketball, volleyball, soccer and fast-pitch softball.

No more headers

Sign of the times? Worried about concussions, a middle school in Eastern Pennsylvania has banned its soccer players from "heading" the ball.

Shipley School, a private school in Bryn Mawr, instituted the rule this summer. Shipley is believed to be the first school in the country to ban headers. The school also plans to have its high school athletes wear sensors to measure blows to the head.


For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh

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