Home WPIAL High School Football in Pennsylvania is Happening, With Modifications

High School Football in Pennsylvania is Happening, With Modifications

by Ian

It has been a busy week in high school sports news in Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, the PIAA formally adopted a number of recommendations to allow for high school sports to take place this fall. While many other states had opted to either cancel fall sports or push them to the spring, the PIAA was able to come up with a plan to allow fall sports (including football) to move forward with competition.

However, those recommendations came with some caveats. The first is that if a player or coach on a team tests positive for COVID, the entire team must undergo a two-week quarantine. This could have massive impacts on a schedule that only has 10 regular season weeks to begin with. The second was that districts had the ability to alter their own schedules within the PIAA framework of the season (more on this in a minute). Finally, the PIAA indicated that fans would not be allowed at games. The PIAA noted that the lack of fans at games was not their decision but due to the current statewide restrictions on assemblies and gatherings from the Governor.

This seems as good a time as any to mention the new partnership between Steel City Blitz and the Small Player Big Play app. Through the app, schools can livestream their games and fans can subscribe in order to watch the games. There is a fundraising component for the schools involved in that they get a portion of the revenue from the subscription fees. Download the app for free and check out more information on their website. This is a great opportunity for both schools to recoup some lost ticket revenue and for fans to still be able to watch their teams during these unprecedented times.

WPIAL Regular Season

On Friday, the WPIAL finalized their plans for the 2020 Football Season. The WPIAL opted to use the “hybrid” approach for the season, as most school districts have still not finalized their plans for instruction for the upcoming academic year. To their credit, the WPIAL’s schedule for this cycle (which was made before COVID time) was their best in years. It backloaded the schedule with conference games and put a majority of the non-conference matchups at the beginning of the schedule. No team faced a conference opponent until Week 3, at the earliest. This smart scheduling gave the WPIAL the flexibility to enact a scheduling adjustment in a few days without requiring a major overhaul.

The scheduling change that was enacted was:
– Week 0 (August 28) and Week 1 (September 4) are dropped from the calendar.
– The previously scheduled opponents for Week 9 are moved to Week 2, replacing those matchups on September 10, 11 and 12.
– From there, Weeks 3-8 continue as scheduled with the regular season concluding on October 22, 23 and 24.

With these changes, the regular season will now be 7 weeks long and begin on Thursday, September 10. The WPIAL noted that there may be an increase in the number of Thursday and Saturday games due to a shortage in officials. This gives schools some additional time to determine their instruction methods and gives players the extra time for heat acclimation and training camp practices.

WPIAL Playoffs

The other big announcement from the WPIAL was in regards to the playoffs. One of the options discussed at the state level was moving up the football playoffs by two weeks so that the Championships were finished before Thanksgiving. In turn, the WPIAL has decided on a shorter playoff schedule and a limited number of participants.

  • In Class 6A, only 4 of the 8 teams will make the playoffs.
  • In the other five classifications, the number of playoff participants will be determined by whether or not the PIAA hosts state playoffs.
    • If the PIAA has state playoffs, 8 teams will make the playoffs in the other five classifications.
    • If the PIAA does NOT have state playoffs, only 4 teams would make the playoffs in the other five classifications.

This is potentially massive news. In 5A, 4A, 3A, and 1A there are 3 conferences per classification. With only 8 teams qualifying, this would mean only the top 2 schools plus 2 of the 3 third place teams would qualify for the postseason. If the even shorter playoffs occur, only the conference champions and one wild card would qualify for the playoffs. In 1A and 5A, all three conferences have an identical number of teams, which will make determining a potential “wild card” playoff team relatively easy. However, 3A and 4A have unbalanced conferences where one section has fewer teams than the others. With the move to conference-only schedules, it will make determining the “wild card” formulas a bit trickier for those classes. Class 2A is the easiest to determine with four conferences. In the 8-team alignment the top 2 teams from each conference would make the playoffs while in the 4-team alignment only the conference champions would qualify.

Interestingly, since the WPIAL awards “Conference Champion” trophies to any team tied with the same record, regardless of tiebreaker, the potential would exist for a 3-way tie to occur and 2 teams receive “Conference Champion” trophies but not make the playoffs because of tiebreakers. I am certainly hoping that the first scenario is the end result, because there are a number of high quality teams that would miss their chance at a title run if only the conference champions make the playoffs. Not counting 6A, last year 1 WPIAL Champion (Gateway) and 4 title game participants (Gateway, Peters Twp, Belle Vernon, Aliquippa) did not finish atop their conference standings when tiebreakers were factored in. All in all, we are hopeful that the high school football season is able to be played, and that everyone stays safe and healthy throughout the season.

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