In response to last week’s vote by the PIAA Board of Directors to expand from four to six classifications, the Central League is making notable changes to its scheduling in 2016.
League officials voted Thursday to return to a nine-game schedule, with 10 overall games and one scrimmage. Teams now will have one open date (Week 1) before the Central League schedule gets under way Week 2. The league operated on an eight-game schedule this season after several years of playing nine games.
Furthermore, according to league president and Penncrest athletic director Chip Olinger, the league will be divided into two groups — big schools and small schools — for scheduling purposes. The league will remain unified in its current state and one champion will be crowned.
The “big school” group would include the four Class AAAAAA teams (Conestoga, Haverford, Ridley, Upper Darby) and two final teams that will be determined by league winning percentage over the last three years, including this season. Garnet Valley and Springfield are the favorites to occupy those two final “big school” slots.
The “small school” group would include Harriton, Lower Merion, Marple Newtown, Penncrest, Radnor and Strath Haven.
“We’re throwing enrollment out of the window for that last ‘big school’ team and instead we’re taking the last three years of winning percentage. I want to be clear that it’s winning percentage for league games only,” Olinger said. “We thought that was the best way to go. We needed to do what was fair for the league.”
The new scheduling format applies to football only. All other sports are unaffected by the changes.
Splitting the league into two groups — again, for scheduling reasons only — helps alleviate growing concerns about competitive fairness. There’s also the issue of the PIAA power-point system hindering bigger schools in the Central League for “playing down” against smaller teams in their conference. The league is now giving each group the mandate to schedule games among themselves.
In addition to the classification expansion, the PIAA reduced the football season by one week. As a result, Thanksgiving Day rivalries could be on life support. Interboro-Ridley and Haverford-Upper Darby could be forced to move their Thanksgiving meetings to another date. There already has been discussion about moving Interboro-Ridley to Week 1.