Varsity Notebook: Right from opening kickoff, most WPIAL teams are 'playing for keeps'
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The 2012 football season brings a relatively new concept to WPIAL teams. They are playing "for keeps" from the first game.
Under the WPIAL's realignment, conference play for nearly all teams begins tonight when football season kicks off. For WPIAL teams, these games count from the start.
For decades, most teams started the season with at least one non-conference game. In Class AAAA in recent years, teams played three or sometimes four non-conference games to start the season. The WPIAL used to schedule all games for teams except the season opener. Now the WPIAL schedules all games, including the opener.
The reason for the change is the WPIAL's major overhaul of Class AAAA and AAA, at the request of Class AAAA schools. It seems a majority of coaches and athletic directors wanted more meaningful games from the start. So, the WPIAL now has only three conferences in both Class AAAA and AAA, instead of four. That made for larger conferences, thus teams have more conference games to play.
In the past, four teams from all conferences made the playoffs. Under the realignment, five teams from each Class AAAA and AAA conference will make the playoffs, as well as one sixth-place team, labeled the "wild-card team." Four teams from each Class AA and A conference make the playoffs.
But playing conference games the first week of the season isn't a novel idea. Some Class AA conferences have been doing it for a while. In the 1970s, nearly every WPIAL team opened the season with conference games.
An informal poll of some coaches this summer showed some like the idea of conference games in the first week, and some are ambivalent. One coach who does not like the idea is longtime Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render, whose team opens the season tonight against Woodland Hills in a Class AAAA Southeastern Conference game.
"I don't really like this alignment. I don't know whose brainchild it was," Render said. "To have Plum, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills come over to our conference? Next year, we play all three of them on the road. I would imagine the crowds are going to be terrible. Our fans aren't going to drive out to Plum through rush hour on a Friday night.
"One of the only people I knew who was in favor of these conference games was [former Mt. Lebanon coach] Chris Haering. His take on it was if you have to prepare to play a game, it might as well have some meaning. So now, we have meaning and Chris Haering is an assistant coach at Pitt."
Cornell boys' basketball coach Bill Sacco now has a gigantic University of Kentucky national championship ring. Joe DeGregorio, a former WPIAL coach, also has one.
The rings were gifts from Kentucky coach John Calipari, who guided the Wildcats to the NCAA championship in March. Sacco coached Calipari at Moon High School and DeGregorio coached Calipari at Clarion University (DeGregorio later coached at Upper St. Clair and North Hills high schools).
Calipari stays in close contact with his former coaches. In fact, when Sacco's Cornell team played in the WPIAL Class A championship game last March, Calipari attended the game at Duquesne's Palumbo Center.
"He treats us like gold," Sacco said. "I'm not sure why, but he's been good to us forever. Somebody asked me the value of the ring and only our relationship has value. The way he treats us is unbelievable."
When asked if he wears the ring, Sacco said, "I'm not strong enough to wear it. I gave it to my wife to wear around her neck, but she can't wear it, either, because it pulls her down to the ground. I don't know what the word is for that kind of ring, but it's amazing how big it is."
Root Sports television once again will televise a WPIAL game live on most Thursday nights this season.
The cable station televised WPIAL games on Thursday nights for six years, but switched to Friday nights a year ago because of too many conflicts with Pirates and Penguins telecasts. This year, Root Sports will air five games live during the regular season and two on tape delay.
Root Sports recently released its schedule of games, and some are excellent matchups. The live games are Montour vs. Central Valley (Sept. 6), Baldwin vs. Penn Hills (Sept. 13), Clairton vs. Monessen (Sept. 20), Seneca Valley vs. Central Catholic (Sept. 27) and Franklin Regional vs. Knoch (Oct. 4).
The two games on tape are Beaver Falls vs. Aliquippa (Oct. 18) and Greensburg Central Catholic vs. Jeannette (Oct. 25). Root also will televise playoff games and all four WPIAL championship games Nov. 23 at Heinz Field.
Comcast also will televise a WPIAL game of the week on Xfinity On Demand. The games can be seen on the Monday after the contest, and the games will also include a 10-minute highlight package from another game.
They also can be viewed online at www.xfinity.com/highschoolsports and also are available via mobile devices.
PCN cable television will air a game from around the state on tape Saturday nights. A few of the games will involve WPIAL teams.
Last Thursday, the PIAA overturned WPIAL rulings on five cases involving transfers of student athletes.
The WPIAL ruled all five athletes ineligible this year, claiming their transfers were at least partly for athletic intent, which is against PIAA and WPIAL rules. But all five athletes won appeals at the PIAA level.
The PIAA's failure to back the WPIAL is becoming a big issue between the two organizations. But the PIAA did uphold a WPIAL ruling in one case. One day after it overturned the five WPIAL rulings, the PIAA backed the WPIAL and ruled Daniel Popovich ineligible to play football at Serra, saying he transferred from Mc-Keesport for athletic intent.
So the WPIAL batted 1 for 6 in two days.
A highly touted Pitt football recruit started the season with a memorable performance. Tra'Von Chapman, a quarterback at Roosevelt High in Kent, Ohio, had 518 yards offense in the season opener against Hoban last Friday. Chapman completed 22 of 39 passes for 439 yards and also ran 19 times for 79 yards.
Rivals.com ranks Chapman (6 feet 2, 200 pounds) the No. 13 dual-threat quarterback in the country.