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District 11 unanimously opts out of PIAA football playoffs in favor of its own postseason

The (Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
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No District 11 football team has won a PIAA title since Allentown Central Catholic took the 3-A gold in 2010.

That streak of no District 11 squad winning a state championship will continue for at least another year.

That’s because District 11 voted 20-0 Wednesday morning to opt out of the PIAA football tournament and hold its own district tournament that would feature 36 of the 46 football-playing members.

The unanimous vote was the result of the PIAA contracting its state tournament by two weeks and deciding to hold its state finals on the weekend after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27-28, instead of the second weekend of December as originally scheduled.

“Having Thanksgiving weekend for state championships allows for a lot of districts to participate in the state playoffs,” District 11 chairman Bob Hartman said. “Unfortunately, we’re not one of them.”

The condensed schedule would not have allowed for any district playoff games to occur in five of the six classifications before the start of the state tournament. The lone exception was in Class 6-A where there was room for one district game before the start of states.

District 11 officials met last Thursday and nearly voted to opt then, but gave league officials a chance to go back and talk to their members one more time before holding the vote.

Before last week, surveys had been sent out to all District 11 schools and of the 38 that returned the surveys, only four expressed the preference of going on to states rather than stopping at the league level.

The Colonial League, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and Schuylkill League schedules were all abbreviated by concerns over the coronavirus pandemic and are set to conclude league play on the final weekend of October.

The state tournament will begin the following week.

Instead of the PIAA playoffs, the District 11 tournament will begin the first weekend of November and feature two or three rounds depending on the class.

Class 6-A, 4-A and 2-A will have eight-team fields. Classes 5-A, 3-A and 1-A will feature four participants. The 36 participants is an increase by at least eight over what would have happened had the original schedule been executed since sub-regional formats with other districts were eliminated.

Quarterfinal and semifinal games will be held at the home field of the higher seed. Attempts will be made to hold the championship games at neutral sites.

Without any district tournament games in five of the six classes, District 11 would have had to use power rankings rather than actual games to determine state qualifiers. Class 6-A, 4-A and 2-A will have eight team fields. Classes 5-A, 3-A and 1-A will feature four participants. Quarterfinal and semifinal games will be held at the home field of the higher seed. Attempts will be made to hold the finals at neutral sites.

Schools that don’t qualify for districts will have the option of scheduling other games as will teams that are knocked out of districts in the early rounds. The PIAA has allowed games to go on until Thanksgiving weekend as long as they don’t exceed the 10-game maximum.

“We’re going to have very few teams sitting home in what I’ll call Week 11 [the first weekend of November when the postseason starts],” said District 11 football chairman and Northwestern Lehigh athletic director Jason Zimmerman. “Hopefully, those schools will match up with each other. I believe you’ll also see some schools that lose in our playoffs hook up with other teams that lost and schedule games so they can pad their schedules a little bit and give their kids some additional opportunities.”

With several games already have been canceled because of positive COVID-19, any District 11 playoff games could also fall victim to the pandemic.

In that case, District 11 would likely follow the PIAA guidance and advance the team not affected by COVID-19 to the next round if a game can’t be rescheduled in a reasonable time frame.

“Obviously, we want to play as many games on the field as possible and that philosophy hasn’t changed,” Zimmerman said. “We’ll work through those details, we’ll work through sites and how we’re going to handle spectators and things of that nature. There’s a lot of stuff, a lot of variables to work through to put a format on paper, but obviously that’s going to be a fluid document considering the times.”

Hartman, the Whitehall athletic director, is also vice president of the PIAA’s Board of Control.

He said there are no hard feelings between the PIAA and District 11 because the district will not participate.

“I don’t think our decision will lead to a revamping of the state tournament,” Hartman said. “Naturally, with us opting out, it will free up a line in all of those PIAA brackets and maybe provide other opportunities to districts. I apologize to Mark Byers of the PIAA executive staff. He tends to be the PIAA’s bracket master and now he’ll have to rework things. I understand the desire by the PIAA to hold championships. They replicate our desire to have championships for kids.”

Hartman said he hopes that District 11 is not the catalyst for other districts to drop out of the PIAA tournament.

“I haven’t heard a lot about discussions in other districts,” he said. “We’re just making a decision bsed on what’s best for our schools as a whole and providing for safe, local championships. We’re still going to be participating in state playoffs in other fall sports. Football is the only one we’re not playing in. But I think we’re in a good spot here with what we’ve done with our football championships.”