Home WPIAL WPIAL Realignment Analysis and Alternative Scenarios

WPIAL Realignment Analysis and Alternative Scenarios

by Ian

The WPIAL announced the realigned conferences for the 2024-2025 cycle on Tuesday. After having a subcommittee explore alternative proposals for playoff structure, the WPIAL stuck with their traditional format of having conferences consisting of only teams from a given classification. This made the PIAA’s decision to force Aliquippa up to 5A all the more punitive, as the Quips will now have to play a conference schedule that features Pine-Richland and Penn Hills. Elsewhere around the state, conferences are not organized solely on classification. In fact, many other districts around the state lack enough teams in any one classification to fill out a conference schedule. District 10 (northwest PA) has “region” alignments to allow teams in geographic proximity to play in the same section. Other districts have “leagues” (like D6 in Central PA and D3 around Harrisburg) where teams from multiple classifications compete together. These districts all have power ranking formulas to determine playoff qualifiers.

The WPIAL explored using power rankings instead of their traditional format of “the top X number of teams from each conference qualify” but ultimately seems to have decided to stick with their normal format. Unfortunately, this was the format that left 8-2 Beaver out of the playoffs in 2016 and 8-2 Upper St Clair out last year. The easiest fix to these situations would be to allow more than one team per conference to qualify as a “wild card.” Last year, if Upper St. Clair had been eligible for the Wild Card they would have edged out Franklin Regional who finished 3rd in the Big East Conference.

New Conference Alignments

This year’s realignment cycle saw private schools significantly benefit from the PIAA’s new method of counting enrollment. This cycle, students who are homeschooled or attend charter/votech schools count 100% towards enrollment rather than the 10% they counted previously. Because private schools do not have any of these students, private schools statewide saw themselves drop in classification. In the WPIAL, Central Catholic was eligible to move to 5A (but opted to stay in 6A), North Catholic moved down to 3A, Shady Side Academy moved down to 2A, and Serra Catholic moved down to 1A.

The 2024-25 cycle will have 8 teams in 6A, all competing in one conference. After the brutal scheduling of a 5-team conference the last two years, this is a welcome change (thanks in part to Butler returning from independence/D-10). In 5A there are 20 teams split between three conferences. Due to the PIAA’s inexplicable ruling to force Aliquippa up to 5A, the Quips are now in a conference with Pine-Richland and Penn Hills. In 4A, the WPIAL had a tough task of splitting the 17 teams into conferences. Rather than going with two conferences of 8 and 9 teams, the WPIAL split them into three sections of 5, 6, and 6. Geography was not the friend of the WPIAL in 4A as they had four northern schools to align somewhere. However, they made some curious alignment choices. In the last few cycles, McKeesport had played in a conference with Thomas Jefferson, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold, Trinity and Belle Vernon (when BVA was in 4A). West Mifflin and TJ are historic rivals and the Titans were formerly in that conference as well. Yet the WPIAL split McKeesport and West Mifflin away from their Mon Valley/Route 51 rivals and grouped them with the northern schools. Instead, they placed Chartiers Valley with the Mon Valley schools instead of with the western schools like Montour and West Allegheny.

What the WPIAL did in 4A:
Section 1 (Parkway) – Ambridge, Blackhawk, Montour, New Castle, West Allegheny
Section 2 (GAC) – Hampton, Indiana, Knoch, Mars, McKeesport, West Mifflin
Section 3 (Big Eight) – Belle Vernon, Chartiers Valley, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold, Thomas Jefferson, Trinity

This may have been done for competitive balance reasons so that (arguably) the three best teams in the classification (McKeesport, Thomas Jefferson, and Belle Vernon) were not all in the same conference. Looking back, for the first two cycles of the six classification era, there were only two conferences in 4A. The WPIAL could have aligned teams into two conferences thusly:

What the WPIAL Could Have Done in 4A:
Section 1: Ambridge, Blackhawk, Hampton, Indiana, Knoch, Mars, Montour, New Castle, West Allegheny
Section 2: Belle Vernon, Chartiers Valley, Laurel Highlands, McKeesport, Ringgold, Thomas Jefferson, Trinity, West Mifflin

In 3A, the only questionable move was to place McGuffey in with the I-79/Parkway West schools (Avonworth, Beaver, Central Valley, North Catholic, et al). Historically, McGuffey had usually been aligned with the I-70 Interstate Conference schools such as Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland, and Yough. Moving McGuffey to Section 1 instead of Section 3 is a curious choice. Additionally, East Allegheny remained with the Alle-Kiski Valley schools, though they geographically would have also fit with the Greensburg Salem/Mt. Pleasant/Southmoreland group in the Interstate.

In 2A, the Midwestern Conference of Lawrence and Beaver County schools was the easiest to put together. The other two sections were certainly a little challenging and wound up with some geographic oddities like OLSH, South Allegheny, and Ligonier Valley all in the same conference. OLSH and Ligonier Valley are 67 miles (over an hour and 15 minutes) apart. Meanwhile, the other conference features a geographic spread from Carlynton to Waynesburg to Charleroi. The challenge in 1A was how to accommodate all of the teams in the south and west. Monessen was removed from the Tri-County South and swapped with Avella from the Black Hills. While Avella geographically fits with the Black Hills teams like Burgettstown and Char-Houston, they are a much better competitive fit with the TCS teams. The WPIAL did not do defending Champs Fort Cherry any favors, loading the Black Hills Conference with Bishop Canevin, Cornell, and Serra Catholic.

The “What If?” Scenario

For this cycle, the conferences are what they are and will not be changing. But it’s worth considering – what if the WPIAL was willing to change their structure? How could conferences potentially be aligned if the WPIAL was not bound by only grouping teams together that were in the same classification? This opens up a variety of options. For those that have been reading my articles for a while (or have listened to my podcast) you know I have spreadsheets for everything. Including potential conference alignments based more on geography than on classification. Before I get into this hypothetical scenario, here are a few guiding principles I used:

  • Teams were organized into conferences of 6 to 9 teams. Generally, the 9th team was either a Private/Non-Boundary school or it was in the lowest set of conferences.
  • No conference has a disparity of more than 2 classifications between largest and smallest opponents
  • Private/Non-Boundary schools were placed in classifications with schools from higher classifications where possible
  • Private/Non-Boundary schools were placed as the last teams in a given conference so if the WPIAL wanted to create a conference of only Private/Non-Boundary schools, they could do so without disrupting the overall conference structure. These teams are noted in italics.
  • From a scheduling standpoint, my idea would be that each team faces every team in their conference. This would account for 5 to 8 games per season. Week 0 games would NOT count towards the Power Rankings formula. The other 9 games (conference games + non-conference games scheduled by the WPIAL) would all count towards the Power Rankings and playoff qualification. Teams would still be eligible to schedule their own Week 0 opponents to preserve some historic rivalries that may not be accommodated by this schedule alignment.
    • Teams with the best record in the conference would receive a Conference Champion trophy.
    • All playoff spots would be based on the Power Rankings formula.

Hypothetical Geographic Conferences

The first tier of conferences features the largest schools. Roughly speaking, each “tier” has a grouping from the West, North, South, and East. Those lines get a little blurry at a few points, in order to follow the principles noted above. Conference names are made up based on some historical conference names. I will also note that I took recent performance into consideration and if the WPIAL were to ever adopt a similar structure, they could continue to realign teams every two years, moving them up into larger leagues or down into smaller leagues as necessary for competitive balance.

Parkway Great Southern Northern Big East
Aliquippa (5A)
Moon (5A)
Blackhawk (4A)
Chartiers Valley (4A)
Montour (4A)
West Allegheny (4A)
Central Valley (3A)
Canon-McMillan (6A)
Mt. Lebanon (6A)
Baldwin (5A)
Bethel Park (5A)
Peters Twp (5A)
South Fayette (5A)
Upper St Clair (5A)
Butler (6A)
Central Catholic (6A)
North Allegheny (6A)
Seneca Valley (6A)
North Hills (5A)
Pine-Richland (5A)
Penn Hills (5A)
Hempfield (6A)
Norwin (6A)
Franklin Regional (5A)
Gateway (5A)
Penn-Trafford (5A)
Plum (5A)
Woodland Hills (5A)

Notes:

  • Aliquippa (while being designated a 5A school by the PIAA) would only have one 5A opponent in their conference (Moon) and would be able to play many of the same opponents they recently faced in the 4A Parkway, with the addition of Central Valley.
  • Chartiers Valley could be swapped out of the Parkway for New Castle or Ambridge.
  • Shaler, Plum, Armstrong, or Fox Chapel could also be candidates for inclusion in the Northern Conference.
  • Plum could be swapped out of the Big East for a team like Kiski or Latrobe.
Ohio Valley Big Eight Greater Allegheny Keystone
Ambridge (4A)
New Castle (4A)
Avonworth (3A)
Beaver (3A)
Hopewell (3A)
Quaker Valley (3A)
Beaver Falls (2A)
Seton LaSalle (2A)
Latrobe (5A)
Belle Vernon (4A)
McKeesport (4A)
Thomas Jefferson (4A)
Trinity (4A)
West Mifflin (4A)
Elizabeth Forward (3A)
Armstrong (5A)
Kiski (5A)
Fox Chapel (5A)
Shaler (5A)
Hampton (4A)
Indiana (4A)
Knoch (4A)
Mars (4A)
North Catholic (3A)
Laurel Highlands (4A)
Ringgold (4A)
Derry (3A)
Greensburg Salem (3A)
Mt Pleasant (3A)
Southmoreland (3A)

Notes:

  • The Keystone Conference was kept to just 6 teams so those schools could schedule Westmoreland/Fayette County independents Albert Gallatin, Connellsville, and Uniontown in non-conference play if they wanted to do so, maintaining some traditional geographic rivalries for those schools. If the conference was expanded beyond these 6 schools Latrobe, Indiana, or Ligonier Valley would make geographic sense.
  • The Greater Allegheny Conference spans 3 classifications but North Catholic, Armstrong, and Kiski all played in the same 4A conference last cycle so these would largely be the same opponents.
  • Latrobe played in the Big Eight Conference last year and moved up to 5A this year. Geographically, Latrobe fits better in the Keystone Conference, but as noted above that section was purposefully kept to 6 teams. Kiski or Plum could also be candidates for the Big Eight Conference.
  • The Big Eight conference (even though it only has 7 teams, this is the traditional name and prevents having two conferences with the same name) had teams that geographically fit but were not placed in this group for competitive balance reasons. Teams like East Allegheny, McGuffey, or South Park could be considered but are not included in this recommendation.
  • If the WPIAL wanted more teams per conference and was less interested in accommodating games against independent schools
  • Seton LaSalle played in a 3A conference last season so these are largely the same opponents in the Ohio Valley Conference.
  • Having North Catholic and Seton LaSalle play in conferences against teams in higher classes works towards the goal noted above of pushing up the private/non-boundary schools. Additionally, if the WPIAL went with a Private School Only conference, these two could be removed from their respective conferences without disrupting the scheduling structure (the Ohio Valley and GAC would still be between 6-8 teams).
Midwestern Century Allegheny Interstate
Ellwood City (2A)
Freedom (2A)
Mohawk (2A)
Riverside (2A)
Union (2A)
Laurel (1A)
Neshannock (1A)
Shenango (1A)
McGuffey (3A)
Keystone Oaks (2A)
South Park (2A)
Steel Valley (2A)
Sto-Rox (2A)
Washington (2A)
Waynesburg (2A)
OLSH (2A)
Bishop Canevin (1A)
Burrell (3A)
Deer Lakes (3A)
East Allegheny (3A)
Freeport (3A)
Highlands (3A)
Valley (3A)
Imani Christian (3A)
Shady Side Academy (2A)
Yough (3A)
Charleroi (2A)
Ligonier Valley (2A)
South Allegheny (2A)
Clairton (1A)
Jeannette (1A)
GCC (1A)
Serra Catholic (1A)

Notes:

  • Farrell could easily be added to the Midwestern conference for relatively short travel between the Lawrence County schools.
  • McGuffey is moving up from 2A to 3A this cycle and stays in a conference with Washington, Keystone Oaks, Sto-Rox, and Brentwood who they previously played.
  • The Private/Non-Boundary schools from lower classifications are placed into conferences with teams from higher classes within their geographic footprint (Bishop Canevin, OLSH, Imani, Shady Side, GCC, Serra). These 6 teams could all be removed to create a “Private School Only” conference without disrupting the scheduling structure.
  • Apollo-Ridge could be placed in the Allegheny Conference due to geographic proximity to those schools. They would be the only 2A public school in the league, but the reduced travel time could be beneficial.
  • Brentwood was also considered for the Century Conference, but they are moving down to 1A this year and would be the only 1A school in the league. Waynesburg was kept with that group while Brentwood was moved down with other 1A schools.
Big Seven Eastern Tri-County South
New Brighton (2A)
Western Beaver (2A)
Burgettstown (1A)
Chartiers-Houston (1A)
Cornell (1A)
Fort Cherry (1A)
Rochester (1A)
South Side Beaver (1A)
Apollo-Ridge (2A)
Carlynton (2A)
Brentwood (1A)
Leechburg (1A)
Northgate (1A)
Riverview (1A)
Springdale (1A)
Summit Academy (1A)
Avella (1A)
Bentworth (1A)
Beth-Center (1A)
California (1A)
Carmichaels (1A)
Frazier (1A)
Jefferson-Morgan (1A)
Mapletown (1A)
Monessen (1A)
West Greene (1A)

Notes:

  • The Tri-County South is the only conference in this alignment with 10 teams. That means their entire 9-game regular season would be head-to-head games. This could be altered by moving a team like Frazier to the Eastern Conference or Avella to the Big Seven. However, for competitive balance purposes those two schools (which have struggled in the Eastern & Big Seven the last few seasons) were kept in the TCS.
  • Summit Academy could either stay in the Eastern Conference or be placed in the “Private School Only” conference, though given that they do not attract and retain students in the same way as the other Private/Non-boundary schools, they could also be kept in the Eastern Conference.

Private School Conference

There has been a push in recent years for the WPIAL to separate public and private schools during the regular season. Based on the 2024-25 alignment, 9 of the 10 private/non-boundary schools in the WPIAL are in the smaller half of classifications (1A-3A). The only large private school is Central Catholic, who will compete in 6A and in the hypothetical alignment above is placed in a conference with the largest schools. North Catholic played in 4A last cycle but moved down to 3A this cycle. It would be unfair to put Central in a league with the 9 small private schools, so in this example, Central would remain in the regular Northern Conference.

The other 9 private/non-boundary schools could be placed into their own conference and removed from the conferences above without impacting scheduling significantly (all of the conferences as proposed would still have at least 6 teams). A separate decision could be made regarding Summit Academy and whether they should play with the other private/non-boundary schools or remain with the public schools since their students only attend for one year, unlike the other private/non-boundary schools which are four-year institutions.

Here is how a conference of only private/non-boundary schools would stack up:

  • 3A schools: North Catholic, Imani Christian
  • 2A schools: Seton LaSalle, Shady Side Academy, OLSH
  • 1A schools: Bishop Canevin, Serra Catholic, GCC, Summit Academy

If Summit Academy is not included, the Private School Conference would have 8 teams. These teams would play 7 head-to-head games during the regular season plus two more games against public school opponents that would be scheduled by the WPIAL to fill out the schedule.

With the Power Rankings formula to determine playoff teams, private schools could still qualify for the postseason in their respective classifications, based on the number of points they earn during the regular season, just like teams from the other conferences.

In the end, this is all just a hypothetical thought experiment. The WPIAL would first need to have a major change in format to move to a power rankings system to determine playoff qualifiers. This is the first step that would open the door for geographic-based conferences. Geographic conferences, with the ability to move teams into groups with larger or smaller schools, could also aid competitive balance. Struggling programs could be moved “down” to play with schools from lower classifications. This could potentially keep teams in the WPIAL as there would be an avenue to competitiveness other than going the independent route. In the last decade, the WPIAL has lost Albert Gallatin, Uniontown, Butler, Brownsville, and Connellsville to independent schedules. Additionally, aligning conferences geographically limits the negative impacts of the ludicrously inequitable enforcement of the PIAA Success Formula.

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