PIAA classification changes, PAC expansion signal massive changes

It wasn’t the prettiest of wins.

But for Spring-Ford, breaking a three-game losing streak to Pottsgrove with a 22-13 victory Friday night was deemed acceptable.

Too bad it could be their last Pioneer Athletic Conference battle for the foreseeable future.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) made sweeping changes to the high school sports landscape last Wednesday, voting to expand from four to six classifications in football in a 26-4 vote held at the PIAA Board of Directors’ Meeting in Mechanicsburg.

It was a vote that came on the heels of a proposal introduced by District 9 representative Bob Tonkin to expand Pennsylvania football classifications back in December and will reorganize the 576 high school football teams statewide into classifications that house approximately 96 teams apiece, each team having the option to play up in classification if it chooses.

The move brings a radical change to the PIAA football landscape in an attempt to even out the disparity in classes, especially in Class AAAA where schools with enrollment numbers at the cusp of the classification level have a hard going competing against teams with higher enrollment (i.e. Chester with a male enrollment of 594 competing against Upper Darby, male enrollment of 1354).

The shift was opposed by the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL, District 7), which claimed that a bump up to six classifications would ruin their tradition of hosting all four district title games at Heinz Field. Six games would be too many to host in one day.

As for tradition, it’s not only the WPIAL that will need the adapt.

When enrollment figures for the next two-year cycle are released in December, the PIAA vote is likely to move Boyertown, Methacton, Norristown, Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford up to 6A, Phoenixville and Upper Merion to 5A and Pope John Paul II, Pottsgrove, Pottstown and Upper Perkiomen to 4A.

Even without PIAA’s big move, the Pioneer Athletic Conference was already on its way to seeing radical change with the introduction of new member schools Norristown and Upper Merion.

Early indications suggest the PAC-10 becoming the PAC-12 will force the league to split into two divisions, one comprising of the 6A schools, the other consisting of the remaining six with smaller enrollments.

That fact bares out as – unless something changes – Pottsgrove and Spring-Ford will not be going head-to-head in 2016. And that is just one traditionally big matchup in the league annually.

The tradition of a Thanksgiving Day game between Owen J. Roberts and Pottstown shouldn’t be in peril, but it would function as a non-division game.

But what may bring a bit of upheaval locally could be a positive for teams on a district level.

The 6A schools gain an advantage in scheduling and their power rankings will reflect it. Perkiomen Valley ran through the PAC-10 unscathed last season, yet received the No. 12 seed and a trip to Downingtown East as a reward because of a schedule filled with Class AAA schools, which hindered their chances of getting enough power points (a Class AAAA team only receives 80 points in a victory over AAA schools vs. 100 against AAAA schools).

Similarly, Methacton, fresh off its best season since the early 2000s, was one ranking spot away from clinching a district playoff berth.

The future 4A schools also gain a noticeable advantage by being able to avoid the bigger enrollment schools with the option of filling their schedule with teams that are closer to their enrollment. This could result in more wins, and more district berths for other teams than Pottsgrove, which has become a mainstay in the postseason tournament circuit.

Yet for all the good the PIAA classification change can bring, scheduling will become an issue with the two-division format in the PAC. The 6A schools would have an option on whether to add cross-over games against teams from the 4A division. So far, that doesn’t look promising as with the aforementioned Pottsgrove-Spring-Ford rivalry.

Good for Spring-Ford, where it can look for 100 power points elsewhere, bad for Pottsgrove as it loses out on the potential 120 points it’d garner with a win.

But as the PIAA showed, maybe the playoffs carry more weight than tradition.


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