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Posted Friday, April 24, 2009 by Ed Dalton
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High School Sports
WPIAL may dump state football playoff
Friday, April 24, 2009

A large majority of district schools say the WPIAL should pull out of the state playoffs if two classifications are added to high school football in Pennsylvania.

A recent survey showed that area schools would rather end the season with the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League championships than compete in six classifications beginning with the 2010 season as proposed by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Currently, there are four classifications in football based on school enrollment.

The proposal has passed two votes at the PIAA level and would be implemented next year if it passes a third vote next month.

Last week, WPIAL officials invited representatives from its 123 football-playing schools to two meetings to discuss the six-class proposal. Each school was given a survey, and the results were released yesterday at a league meeting.

Of the 89 schools that returned the survey, 75 percent (67 schools) said if the six-class idea is passed it would favor the WPIAL keeping its playoff format with only four classifications and pulling out of the PIAA playoffs.

The WPIAL's main argument against six classifications is that it could not play all of its championship games at Heinz Field. Since 1986, the WPIAL has played its title games at Three Rivers Stadium or Heinz Field.

"We are not recommending that we pull out of the state playoffs," said Tim O'Malley, executive director of the WPIAL. "We don't want to go down that path. But that's some of the feedback we've gotten. Our schools have said if push comes to shove, 75 percent are in favor of not participating in the state playoffs."

The WPIAL has taken the stance that all or none of its championships will be played at Heinz Field. If the title games are not at the stadium, they would be played at high school stadiums.

"All we want is for our kids to have what they have become accustomed to over the years [playing at Heinz Field]," Mr. O'Malley said. "It is a major issue and we needed to gather information on what the schools wanted."

Heinz Field officials have told the WPIAL that it doesn't want six games over two days at the stadium, which is home for the Steelers and Pitt Panthers, because of the wear and tear on the grass.

Mr. O'Malley's comments came after two meetings yesterday. The first was with principals and athletic directors in the WPIAL. The second was after a WPIAL Board of Control meeting. Brad Cashman, executive director of the PIAA, attended both meetings.

When asked if the PIAA is worried the WPIAL might pull out of the state playoffs in football only, Mr. Cashman said: "It's a concern because I think the WPIAL has represented themselves very well in our tournaments, and been pretty successful. My personal opinion is that I think it would be very shortsighted if they choose that route."

The state football championships started in 1988 and the WPIAL has won 29 titles. The winners of the four WPIAL championships automatically advance to the PIAA quarterfinals.

"Looking at the big picture, those teams that would have a chance to play for a state championship would be hard-pressed to explain to their parents and players why their season ends with the WPIAL championship," Mr. Cashman said. "I think there would be some political backlash if that would occur."

The other big issue is that the PIAA would like to shorten the season from 16 weeks to 15, which the WPIAL opposes. That proposal also has passed two votes at the PIAA level.

Mr. Cashman threw WPIAL officials a curveball yesterday when he said only a majority vote on the six-class proposal was needed at the next PIAA Board of Control meeting (the WPIAL has three votes on the PIAA Board of Control, which has 31 members). In March, the six-class proposal and the 15-week proposal were voted on as one by the board, and the measure passed by a 17-12 margin. After that vote, Mr. Cashman said the measure would need to pass by two-thirds majority at the final vote.

However, yesterday, he said the two proposals are separate. The 15-week season proposal is a "bylaw" and needs two-thirds majority vote, he said. But the six-class proposal is a "policy" and needs only a simple majority.

Based on the previous vote, WPIAL officials believe the six-class idea has a good chance at passing.

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