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PIAA set to expand from four to six classes

By Jeff Kerr
jkerr@dailylocal.com

[dropcap] C [/dropcap]hange is on the horizon for PIAA football and the Ches-Mont League is expected to benefit.

The PIAA Strategic Planning Committee will meet today to discuss expansion from four to six classifications, effective in time for the 2016 football season.

The decision to expand will be a historic one for the PIAA, an organization that is long overdue for further separation of his classes as Pennsylvania is the fifth-largest state in participating high school football programs. The PIAA has kept the four classification system since installing its state playoff format in 1988.

“Pennsylvania is one of the last states to expand classifications,” said West Chester East head coach Dave Gueriera. This is a start and it had to happen. Putting schools like West Chester East in a classification close to our size makes a lot of sense going forward.”

Eight proposals will be up for discussion at the meetings, which will be held today and Wednesday. Six of the eight proposals involve the expansion to six classes, while the other two keep the alignment at four classes. Half of the proposals involve a 10 percent clause, designed to take non-traditional students that are home-schooled or studying at technical/cyber-charter schools and add just 10 percent to its overall enrollment figure.

If the PIAA expands to six classes, many Ches-Mont schools will experience deeper playoff runs due to the change, similar to the ones Coatesville experienced in 2012 and Great Valley made in 2014.

How is that possible when the league has experienced many of its teams making quick playoff exits despite five or more teams qualifying for the District 1 tournament on an annual basis?

When the newly formed six classifications are broken down by enrollment, many of the smaller Class AAAA Ches-Mont schools will no longer be in the same division with a North Penn, Central Bucks West, Coatesville or Pennsbury.

Instead those smaller Class AAAA schools will be placed in their own classification, a huge break for the Ches-Mont which has plenty of small Class AAAA schools that has won playoff games over the past few seasons (West Chester Rustin, Unionville, West Chester Henderson to name a few).

Once the Ches-Mont schools are broken down into the new six classifications, the general consensus for the league come the District 1 playoffs will look like this (based on male enrollment for 2014-15, subject to change):

• Class A (0-147): None

• Class AA (148-209): None

• Class AAA (210-300): None

• Class AAAA (301-409): Bishop Shanahan, Octorara, Sun Valley.

• Class AAAAA (410-607): Kennett, Oxford, Unionville, West Chester East, West Chester Rustin, West Chester Henderson, Great Valley.

• Class AAAAAA (608 and up): Avon Grove, Coatesville, Downingtown East, Downingtown West.

Other proposals for the six classifications include a “Super 700” and “Super 800” enrollment figure. Under the “Super 700” plan, Class AAAAAA would only consist of schools that have over 700 or more male students in Grades 10 to 12 (same plan with 800).

If the “Super 700” plan gets passed, the Ches-Mont schools in Class AAAAAA would be Avon Grove, Coatesville, Downingtown East and Downingtown West along with Conestoga from the Central League. For “Super 800,” Downingtown West, Avon Grove and Conestoga fall into the other five classifications (Class AAAAA in particular), which will be divided evenly between the remaining schools.

No matter which proposal ends up being the one the PIAA Board of Directors choose, six classes is huge for the Ches-Mont when looking at the number of schools in Class AAAAA.

Rustin, Henderson and Unionville have been successful teams in District 1 Class AAAA over the last five years, but their male enrollment tops at 538 (Rustin). The result ends in smaller football numbers, which provide depth issues against the larger Class AAAA schools in North Penn (1,861), Neshaminy (1,225) and Central Bucks South (972) to name a few.

With the new classification (regardless of proposal), those teams would play a Phoenixville (446), Radnor (445) or Marple-Newtown (472) type of school: programs on a level playing field in terms of enrollment.

“By my count, we’re one of the smallest Class AAAA schools in the district,” said Unionville head coach Pat Clark. “The six classes provide more opportunities for schools; that’s the right thing to do.

“We’re going to have more competitive balance for sure. I think we’re in favor with the new format, but you have to play who you have to play and that will be someone good eventually.”

Another emphasis for discussion once the new classifications are in place is the shortening of the regular season from 10 weeks to nine. The PIAA would prefer to end its football season a week earlier after the state championships have reached the third week of December over the last few years.

If the regular season doesn’t start a week earlier, something will have to give. With six classifications, shortening the playoff field seems to be a given, but the decision to eliminate a regular season game doesn’t seem to be the answer.

“That would be a mistake,” Gueriera said. “I’m against shortening the season and would love for the PIAA to find a way to keep a 10-game regular season while expanding classifications. There’s nothing wrong with a 10-game regular season. It’s perfect.”

“If we’re limited to a nine-game regular season, that’s not enough,” Clark said. “That’s neither the right thing to do nor the solution. Many teams in District 1 aren’t in favor of that. If the PIAA wants to shorten the season by a week, cutting playoff teams might be it.”

While there will still be some good teams in Class AAAAA (see Upper Dublin, Springfield-Delco), the Ches-Mont still has the majority of successful teams that can make strong postseason runs. Rustin has won 82 games since 2006 while Unionville has won 73. That number is expected to increase if these teams advance farther in the postseason.

Just looking at the numbers in each new classification combined with the success of the Ches-Mont and more of an even playing field in the playoffs, foreseeing the Ches-Mont struggling post-expansion seems to be asinine.

Gone are Pennsbury, Abington, North Penn and Neshaminy for the smaller Class AAAA schools. In come Garnet Valley, Owen J. Roberts and Upper Merion. A level playing field is set to take place in District 1.

Bring on expansion.

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