Q&A: WPIAL Executive Director Tim O'Malley


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For an organization to know where it is going, it's a good idea for it to take a look at where it has been. The past 10 years have been interesting for the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League. The WPIAL has been a leader at the state level in trying to revamp the transfer rules and has fought against the PIAA going to six classifications for football. Tim O'Malley has been the WPIAL's executive director since April 2006. Prior to that he was the athletic director at Butler Area High School for seven years, at North Allegheny High for six and Moon Area for two. He has been the head football coach at Avonworth, Pine-Richland, Hopewell and Moon Area. Before taking over as executive director, O'Malley was the WPIAL president and in that capacity served on the PIAA board of control.

O'Malley sat down with the Post-Gazette's Rich Emert and talked about the WPIAL and where the league is heading.

Television. Is it a good thing or a bad thing for high school athletics?

O'Malley: FSN -- what they have done to promote the sport of high school football is a positive. I'm not so sure that translates into [increased] attendance. On a cold, wintry night would you rather stay home [and watch] TV and see a well-produced game ... and I tell them that, they put on such a well-produced game and the product is so good that people would rather watch the product than go to the game.

When Thomas Jefferson played Chartiers Valley [in football], the share on that game was extremely high but attendance at the game was poor. But I think in promoting interest in Western Pennsylvania [football], it has been a good thing. One would argue that our attendance gets hurt at Heinz Field [for the championship games]. I don't know, but the bottom line is the fact that the games are on TV is a good thing. The fact that people throughout the state watch our championship is a good thing. You didn't see District 6 championship on TV or District 3.

For the basketball championships, it's a good thing that Comcast does it on tape delay and people can watch it any time. The reality of it is that the kids who play can go home and watch the game. Sewickley Academy played in the [Class A boys'] championship game last year and went home and watched it that night because it was on that quickly. We appreciate our relationship with both those groups.

We still have three more years on the [FSN] contract for football. That's why it's important that we go to Heinz Field [for the finals] because if we didn't, they couldn't honor that contract. They can't go to four high school fields.

Do you see other championships being televised? Baseball and softball come to mind.

O'Malley: There's no interest from them [FSN or Comcast] yet to do that. The thing with FSN is their schedule is such, with the Penguins, that they would have to tape delay our games. And you remember last year with the baseball finals? It rained like heck, it was a mess and we were all over the place [with game sites]. So, I'm not sure TV would be interested in those sports for that reason. Football, you know it's going to be played that day. They know they can set up and it's going to happen.

The PIAA is going to be going to three classifications for girls' soccer next fall. Is that a good thing?

O'Malley: Absolutely it is. With only two classes we were forcing our large Class AA schools and small Class AAA's to play the bigger schools. Mars, and its team continues to improve, had to play against North Allegheny and had problems. Now, Mars has raised the bar and playing against that competition probably helped Mars in the long run, but this will be much better. Now, what that does to our soccer playoffs next year we don't know. Playing five [championship] games on one day at one site is a challenge. Six is an impossibility. What we'll probably have to do is advertise for two sites -- in a perfect world, maybe Baldwin and Elizabeth Forward would get the bids. That way the sites would be close enough that if you had [boys' and girls'] teams from the same school in the finals and couldn't put them together, you'd be close enough for fans to drive up and down Route 51 and get to both sites easily. Now, whether we'd play three boys' game at one site and three girls' at another would depend on the matchups. It's something we are going to have to take a look at.

How about the WPIAL and the City League? The City League is down to nine high schools. Any talk of a merger?

O'Malley: There is a gentleman in the City Council [in Pittsburgh] who wants us to take over and have the City League become part of the WPIAL because they see the benefits that occur here with Friday night football as opposed to [playing all their games at Cupples Stadium] on the South Side. Like I said to Mike Gavlik, the City League athletic director, I said, 'Mike, you guys have the right by [the PIAA] constitution to have your own district and if you become part of us, you're going to go away.' I said I'd fight that tooth and nail because you won't -- minus a couple cases in basketball -- you won't be competitive. When you're not competitive, interest drops. When interest drops, things go away. Right now you have City championships for everything and provide learning opportunities for X number of kids and you provide them that local accomplishment. Now, they're not competitive on the state level, but in there own arena, they're OK. You come in with us, you won't have anything. We have encouraged him to try and hang on to what he has.

Basketball, the cutback from 24 to 22 regular-season games last year. Do you see that ever going back to 24 games?

O'Malley; We are trying to make that happen. We said from the time that occurred that it was a disservice to the average kid ... that you are taking learning opportunities off kids who aren't going to extend the season [qualify for the playoff]. You are taking a week of involvement off those players ... for what? With the late start date [for the season] and the holidays you have reduced the basketball season to six weeks when you come back after the [holiday] break. We tried to go back to a 12-week season -- the basketball season is 11 weeks this school year -- for this year, but we couldn't. That is something we would really like to see happen.

How about officials -- is there a problem finding quality referees?

O'Malley: I don't think so in football or basketball. We have two very good officials reps and they bounce everything through me -- who is going to be working playoff games -- and they have done a masterful job of rotating people and providing opportunities for young, up-and-coming officials. We have a number of good, young football officials and I think the same is true in basketball.

In some of the sports, officiating is a difficult task and in football and basketball we're really very good, but in some of the sports I'm not so sure we're getting as many as we can. In the last couple of years in soccer we've gotten a number of young guys who grew up playing the game, and that's a good thing. The way I equate officials' ability is: Can they run? Sometimes you're going to make the wrong decision, but at least be in position to make the call. The thing I hate to see is those guys who can't get there and then they are trying to guess.

It's the start of a new decade and things seem to be going along well for the league. Are they?

O'Malley: Obviously, the lifeblood of the organization is the tournaments that we sponsor and it's difficult to maintain what it is you have. We have, without any regard for the outcome of the tournament, advocated very stringently for the contingents of our football tournament because, from the feedback of member schools, that's what they want. The football coaches, and we've reached out to them in the past in regard to when the state [PIAA] revised the [football playoff] brackets and plugged us [WPIAL] in to the quarterfinals, what they wanted the league to do. That's when we lobbied very hard for an extra week [to the season] ... we recognized at that time that the number of Quad-A teams had been reduced to a fairly insignificant number, I think it was 23, and we were of the opinion that maybe we should take eight as opposed to 16 Quad-A teams into our playoffs. But the recommendation of the Quad-A coaches was they didn't want a bye and would rather play. So what's the problem with taking 16?

This league has always been of the opinion that 10 games are what should be played. So in that 10th week one might argue that some of the games are one-sided, but the fact that you qualified for the [WPIAL] playoffs has proven to be very important and a motivator for some schools. And the reality is that you play 10 games ... 64 schools are playing 10 games, which isn't a bad thing.

So, all in all it has been pretty good and along the way there have been some attempts to revise some things our members have become accustomed to and we feel very strongly that the policies that are in place, that assign the numbers for classifications, are there for a reason and that reason is to maintain consistency and we'd like to see that consistency maintained. [Adding classifications for football] will come up again. The issue of 16 or 15 weeks for the football season will come up again, the issue of Dec. 19 [for the PIAA football finals] gets no argument from us that it's too late and we are of the opinion that it has to be moved back.

Are you disappointed that more schools that don't make the playoffs don't play a 10th football game?

O'Malley: Absolutely. When we evolved into the nine-game regular season and the 16 teams [from each classification] into the playoffs, it was with the idea that those schools that didn't make the playoffs would be mandated to play. That mandate didn't come from the league ... the athletic directors and principals wanted that. There was a committee formed that took it upon itself to create 10th game matchups to ensure that everybody played ... and that lasted a couple of years. Then people who were experiencing unsuccessful seasons didn't want to suit up for a 10th time and I blame them for their shortsighted approach because even though you are unsuccessful, it's a chance to play another game.

When [interest in playing a 10th game] began to wane, the Quad-A Conferences said, 'Well if the singles and the doubles and the triples don't want to do it, we'll do it.' Then some of the Quad-A schools started looking for somebody they could beat instead of taking the matchup that was assigned and that led to [10th games] going away.

The fact that [playing a 10th game] has been brought up again by athletic directors in the [Midwestern Athletic Conference] maybe will get it started back up.

Is there something coming up that you think will be the league's biggest challenge?

O'Malley: Football will continue to be that because of the debate [at the PIAA level] about going to six classifications. The on-going challenge will be our attempts to try and lobby for consideration and reinstating that mid-state line as it relates to sports other than football and the mid-week travel. When Altoona or Shippensburg becomes the midpoint between us and somebody else, come on. The PIAA has said it's because of the lack of quality sites, but I don't know. It just doesn't seem to be educationally sound. The kids from Mt. Lebanon [girls' team] tipped off at 8 p.m. [on a week night] in Shippensburg [last basketball season]. Now, what time do you think they are getting home on a winter night? And it happens in every sport. Football, you can rationalize a little because those games are played on weekends and you don't miss any school.

Next decade -- what do you see as something coming at the league?

O'Malley: We want to protect what has happened here for 100 years. We don't want to let time erode that possibility. The WPIAL still means something in this area and we want to continue to provide the opportunity [to win championships] to student athletes.

Has the whole transfer situation cooled or is there something else going on?

O'Malley: It was only last year at this time that the Justin Hoseck of Lincoln Park thing was in Beaver County court for three days. I think what has happened is that the schools around here are beginning to understand the rules. I hope that people are beginning to understand that the intent of the rule is to maintain a level playing field.

Are there still people going here, there and everywhere? Yes. Do we still have hearings out the tail end? Yes. But has it raised its ugly head as much as it has in the past? Not around here as much, but I think in other places it has. We don't think it has been solved. Ninty-eight percent of the [transfer hearings] that come in here, we rule eligible.

For an organization to know where it is going, it's a good idea for it to take a look at where it has been. The past 10 years have been interesting for the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League. The WPIAL has been a leader at the state level in trying to revamp the transfer rules and has fought against the PIAA going to six classifications for football. Tim O'Malley has been the WPIAL's executive director since April 2006. Prior to that he was the athletic director at Butler Area High School for seven years, at North Allegheny High for six and Moon Area for two. He has been the head football coach at Avonworth, Pine-Richland, Hopewell and Moon Area. Before taking over as executive director, O'Malley was the WPIAL president and in that capacity served on the PIAA board of control. O'Malley sat down with the Post-Gazette's Rich Emert and talked about the WPIAL and where the league is heading.

Television. Is it a good thing or a bad thing for high school athletics?

O'Malley: FSN -- what they have done to promote the sport of high school football is a positive. I'm not so sure that translates into [increased] attendance. On a cold, wintry night would you rather stay home [and watch] TV and see a well-produced game ... and I tell them that, they put on such a well-produced game and the product is so good that people would rather watch the product than go to the game.

When Thomas Jefferson played Chartiers Valley [in football], the share on that game was extremely high but attendance at the game was poor. But I think in promoting interest in Western Pennsylvania [football], it has been a good thing. One would argue that our attendance gets hurt at Heinz Field [for the championship games]. I don't know, but the bottom line is the fact that the games are on TV is a good thing. The fact that people throughout the state watch our championship is a good thing. You didn't see District 6 championship on TV or District 3.

For the basketball championships, it's a good thing that Comcast does it on tape delay and people can watch it any time. The reality of it is that the kids who play can go home and watch the game. Sewickley Academy played in the [Class A boys'] championship game last year and went home and watched it that night because it was on that quickly. We appreciate our relationship with both those groups.

We still have three more years on the [FSN] contract for football. That's why it's important that we go to Heinz Field [for the finals] because if we didn't, they couldn't honor that contract. They can't go to four high school fields.

Do you see other championships being televised? Baseball and softball come to mind.

O'Malley: There's no interest from them [FSN or Comcast] yet to do that. The thing with FSN is their schedule is such, with the Penguins, that they would have to tape delay our games. And you remember last year with the baseball finals? It rained like heck, it was a mess and we were all over the place [with game sites]. So, I'm not sure TV would be interested in those sports for that reason. Football, you know it's going to be played that day. They know they can set up and it's going to happen.

The PIAA is going to expand to three classifications for girls' soccer next fall. Is that a good thing?

O'Malley: Absolutely it is. With only two classes we were forcing our large Class AA schools and small Class AAA's to play the bigger schools. Mars, and its team continues to improve, had to play against North Allegheny and had problems. Now, Mars has raised the bar and playing against that competition probably helped Mars in the long run, but this will be much better. Now, what that does to our soccer playoffs next year we don't know. Playing five [championship] games on one day at one site is a challenge. Six is an impossibility. What we'll probably have to do is advertise for two sites -- in a perfect world, maybe Baldwin and Elizabeth Forward would get the bids. That way the sites would be close enough that if you had [boys' and girls'] teams from the same school in the finals and couldn't put them together, you'd be close enough for fans to drive up and down Route 51 and get to both sites easily. Now, whether we'd play three boys' game at one site and three girls' at another would depend on the matchups. It's something we are going to have to take a look at.

How about the WPIAL and the City League? The City League is down to nine high schools. Any talk of a merger?

O'Malley: There is a gentleman in the City Council [in Pittsburgh] who wants us to take over and have the City League become part of the WPIAL because they see the benefits that occur here with Friday night football as opposed to [playing all their games at Cupples Stadium] on the South Side. Like I said to Mike Gavlik, the City League athletic director, I said, 'Mike, you guys have the right by [the PIAA] constitution to have your own district and if you become part of us, you're going to go away.' I said I'd fight that tooth and nail because you won't -- minus a couple cases in basketball -- you won't be competitive. When you're not competitive, interest drops. When interest drops, things go away. Right now you have City championships for everything and provide learning opportunities for X number of kids and you provide them that local accomplishment. Now, they're not competitive on the state level, but in there own arena, they're OK. You come in with us, you won't have anything. We have encouraged him to try and hang on to what he has.

Basketball, the cutback from 24 to 22 regular-season games last year. Do you see that ever going back to 24 games?

O'Malley; We are trying to make that happen. We said from the time that occurred that it was a disservice to the average kid ... that you are taking learning opportunities off kids who aren't going to extend the season [qualify for the playoffs]. You are taking a week of involvement off those players ... for what? With the late start date [for the season] and the holidays you have reduced the basketball season to six weeks when you come back after the [holiday] break. We tried to go back to a 12-week season -- the basketball season is 11 weeks this school year -- for this year, but we couldn't. That is something we would really like to see happen.

How about officials -- is there a problem finding quality referees?

O'Malley: I don't think so in football or basketball. We have two very good officials reps and they bounce everything through me -- who is going to be working playoff games -- and they have done a masterful job of rotating people and providing opportunities for young, up-and-coming officials. We have a number of good, young football officials and I think the same is true in basketball.

In some of the sports, officiating is a difficult task and in football and basketball we're really very good, but in some of the sports I'm not so sure we're getting as many as we can. In the last couple of years in soccer we've gotten a number of young guys who grew up playing the game, and that's a good thing. The way I equate officials' ability is: Can they run? Sometimes you're going to make the wrong decision, but at least be in position to make the call. The thing I hate to see is those guys who can't get there and then they are trying to guess.

It's the start of a new decade and things seem to be going along well for the league. Are they?

O'Malley: Obviously, the lifeblood of the organization is the tournaments that we sponsor and it's difficult to maintain what it is you have. We have, without any regard for the outcome of the tournament, advocated very stringently for the contingents of our football tournament because, from the feedback of member schools, that's what they want. The football coaches, and we've reached out to them in the past in regard to when the state [PIAA] revised the [football playoff] brackets and plugged us [WPIAL] in to the quarterfinals, what they wanted the league to do. That's when we lobbied very hard for an extra week [to the season] ... we recognized at that time that the number of Quad-A teams had been reduced to a fairly insignificant number, I think it was 23, and we were of the opinion that maybe we should take eight as opposed to 16 Quad-A teams into our playoffs. But the recommendation of the Quad-A coaches was they didn't want a bye and would rather play. So what's the problem with taking 16?

This league has always been of the opinion that 10 games are what should be played. So in that 10th week one might argue that some of the games are one-sided, but the fact that you qualified for the [WPIAL] playoffs has proven to be very important and a motivator for some schools. And the reality is that you play 10 games ... 64 schools are playing 10 games, which isn't a bad thing.

So, all in all it has been pretty good and along the way there have been some attempts to revise some things our members have become accustomed to and we feel very strongly that the policies that are in place, that assign the numbers for classifications, are there for a reason and that reason is to maintain consistency and we'd like to see that consistency maintained. [Adding classifications for football] will come up again. The issue of 16 or 15 weeks for the football season will come up again, the issue of Dec. 19 [for the PIAA football finals] gets no argument from us that it's too late and we are of the opinion that it has to be moved back.

Are you disappointed that more schools that don't make the playoffs don't play a 10th football game?

O'Malley: Absolutely. When we evolved into the nine-game regular season and the 16 teams [from each classification] into the playoffs, it was with the idea that those schools that didn't make the playoffs would be mandated to play. That mandate didn't come from the league ... the athletic directors and principals wanted that. There was a committee formed that took it upon itself to create 10th game matchups to ensure that everybody played ... and that lasted a couple of years. Then people who were experiencing unsuccessful seasons didn't want to suit up for a 10th time and I blame them for their shortsighted approach because even though you are unsuccessful, it's a chance to play another game.

When [interest in playing a 10th game] began to wane, the Quad-A Conferences said, 'Well if the singles and the doubles and the triples don't want to do it, we'll do it.' Then some of the Quad-A schools started looking for somebody they could beat instead of taking the matchup that was assigned and that led to [10th games] going away.

The fact that [playing a 10th game] has been brought up again by athletic directors in the [Midwestern Athletic Conference] maybe will get it started back up.

Is there something coming up that you think will be the league's biggest challenge?

O'Malley: Football will continue to be that because of the debate [at the PIAA level] about going to six classifications. The on-going challenge will be our attempts to try and lobby for consideration and reinstating that mid-state line as it relates to sports other than football and the mid-week travel. When Altoona or Shippensburg becomes the midpoint between us and somebody else, come on. The PIAA has said it's because of the lack of quality sites, but I don't know. It just doesn't seem to be educationally sound. The kids from Mt. Lebanon [girls' team] tipped off at 8 p.m. [on a week night] in Shippensburg [last basketball season]. Now, what time do you think they are getting home on a winter night? And it happens in every sport. Football, you can rationalize a little because those games are played on weekends and you don't miss any school.

Next decade -- what do you see as something coming at the league?

O'Malley: We want to protect what has happened here for 100 years. We don't want to let time erode that possibility. The WPIAL still means something in this area and we want to continue to provide the opportunity [to win championships] to student athletes.

Has the whole transfer situation cooled or is there something else going on?

O'Malley: It was only last year at this time that the Justin Hoseck of Lincoln Park thing was in Beaver County court for three days. I think what has happened is that the schools around here are beginning to understand the rules. I hope that people are beginning to understand that the intent of the rule is to maintain a level playing field.

Are there still people going here, there and everywhere? Yes. Do we still have hearings out the tail end? Yes. But has it raised its ugly head as much as it has in the past? Not around here as much, but I think in other places it has. We don't think it has been solved. Ninety-eight percent of the [transfer hearings] that come in here, we rule eligible.


Rich Emert can be reached at remert@post-gazette.com First Published January 15, 2010 5:00 AM


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