The new WPIAL football alignment looks a lot like the old one.
Same old six classes, which was adopted prior to the 2016 season. That was never going to change.
But the WPIAL board did make its fair share of changes, ones that will greatly benefit how each and every Friday night in the fall shakes out.
As much as it pains you to say it, the district did a pretty solid job. Here are five takeaways from the new high school football realignment that was released Monday:
We are about seven months away from the regular season and some local teams have already won, at least in terms of the conferences they will be playing in.
There can’t be a debate about the biggest winner among the 22 local teams. Waynesburg is taking home that award.
The drop to Class 2A saves the Raiders from both grueling drives and competition. Instead of the hour-and-a-half trip to Beaver County for conference games, the farthest north they will have to go is Chartiers-Houston.
The average round-trip distance for Waynesburg’s away games in 2018 was roughly 124.5 miles. The approximated total mileage for all four trips was 498. That number could very well be halved when the schedule comes out for this upcoming season.
Burgettstown and Fort Cherry both benefit from bumping down to Class A, and the two will play in the same conference after the tweaks made by the WPIAL football committee. A realignment plan that was leaked to the media last week had the Blue Devils and Rangers in different conferences. If two districts border one another, like Burgettstown and Fort Cherry do, and are in the same classification, then they should play one another.
The same goes for Carmichaels, which will now feature a more traditional schedule in the drop from 2A to Single-A. The Mikes rejoin the Tri-County South Conference with other Greene County foes Jefferson-Morgan, Mapletown and West Greene.
2. Fight for fourth place
Players change. Coaches change. Programs change.
Let’s get that disclaimer out before nasty emails begin showing up in my inbox.
How it shapes up right now based on recent history, five teams are going to be fighting for fourth place in Class 4A Section 3.
Not only is Thomas Jefferson and Belle Vernon in the section, now another perennial title contender, McKeesport, is included after dropping down from Class 5A. That likely leaves Trinity, Ringgold, Laurel Highlands, West Mifflin and Uniontown fighting for fourth place.
A conference that was top heavy got a lot deeper, and more difficult, with the inclusion of McKeesport.
3. No weeks off
If you thought Class 5A was deep before, now add possibly the two most successful programs over the past decade into the mix.
With the addition of South Fayette – moving up from Class 4A – and Pine-Richland – moving down from Class 6A – the three conferences of six teams each is going to be a battle each week.
In Class 5A Section 1, South Fayette is in a conference with Peters Township, Bethel Park, Moon, Upper St. Clair and West Allegheny. Of those, the only team to miss the playoffs last season was West Allegheny. The Indians were in their first season without longtime coach Bob Palko, who is the head coach at Mt. Lebanon. Maybe the craziest part is each of those five playoff teams advanced to at least the second round of the postseason last year.
It’s not a good conference, it’s a great one. The best from top to bottom in the entire WPIAL.
South Fayette coach Joe Rossi has scheduled USC as the Lions’ Week Zero game each of the past two years, so that will change because they are now in the same conference.
In Section 2, Penn-Trafford and Gateway remain together. Dropping down might have landed Pine-Richland in the easiest conference in 5A. The Rams are in with Fox Chapel, Kiski, North Hills, Penn Hills and Shaler.
4. Good housekeeping
The release of the conferences was only one step in finalizing the realignment for the upcoming two seasons.
Schedules for WPIAL teams will be set the first week of February. Those will include the conference games along with nonconference opponents that are now being handpicked by the WPIAL rather than randomly assigned. The nonconference games will be played at the beginning of the season rather than scattered throughout like in recent years.
Another element that still needs decided are WPIAL postseason brackets and postseason qualifiers. Those won’t be able to completed until after the PIAA reveals updated state playoff brackets, which will then allow the WPIAL to formulate its brackets in each class.
5. Fixing attendance
The WPIAL noticed the decline in attendance at games and is trying to fix the problem.
Long drives have been reduced. Conference opponents, at least in terms of proximity, are about as good as you’re going to get.
The geographically friendly approach to conference alignment can further be driven home when opponents are picked for nonconference games. Keep the rivalries. Match teams that have history. And most importantly, let’s make football competitive again.
Staff writer Luke Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.