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PIAA approves expansion of high school football playoffs to six classes

PATRICK STROHECKER
YorkDispatch

MECHANICSBURG – It wasn't the first time in the PIAA's history that the idea of expanding to six classes for high school football was kicked around.

But, after Wednesday's vote, it was the first time it was approved.

The PIAA Board of Directors voted on Wednesday to expand high school football from four classes to six equal classes for the next two-year cycle. The vote passed with a 26-4 vote and is effective July 1, 2016.

"The first thing we did was we talked to our constituency," District 3 chairman Ronald Kennedy said. "We had a meeting with District 3 and it was pretty obvious from talking with our committee members that we wanted six classifications. So, it was a pretty simple vote, it was six classifications, yes or no, and we voted yes. The one thing I will say, I'm surprised it was 26-4. I thought it would be a little closer than that, but we're happy that it passed and excited to work with six classifications."

District 3 cover south-central Pennsylvania, including the York-Adams League.

The only board members to vote against the change were the four members from District 7, also known as the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL). Those representatives cited financial concerns, loss of rivalry games and students missing class time among other reasons for voting against it.

With the six classifications also comes the 10 percent rule, which was approved previously. With that guideline, schools will now only have to count 10 percent of all home-schooled, cyber-schooled and vocational students to its total male enrollment figures.

Competitive balance: While the board now has to sit down and iron out all of the details on how everything will work, the one major reason why so many members were in favor of the change was competition. With only four classifications, there is a large enrollment gap between some of the schools in the highest class, AAAA. The difference between the largest school and smallest school in that division is in excess of 1,000 male students. With the expansion, each class should now have schools with more similar enrollments.

"I think the biggest thing that we heard across our district was narrowing the gap," District 3 vice chairman Doug Bohannon said. "The traditional 4-A schools that were on the low end had a difficult time battling the schools that had (many more) kids than their schools. With the six equal classifications, it will narrow those numbers and that gap."

There are 576 schools with high school football in the state of Pennsylvania, which means there will be about 96 schools in each classification. However, once the PIAA decides where to draw the lines for each classification, schools will have until Nov. 15 to decide if they want to move up in classification. The final classes will be approved at the Dec. 17 board meeting.

Local schools: While it's unclear how this will impact the York-Adams League schools, it's likely that Red Lion and York High will be moved into the highest class. Schools such as Dallastown and Central York were on the lower end of the AAAA classification, so it's likely they'll be 5-A or 4-A with the realignment.

The idea to re-open the idea of expanded classifications began last December by District 9 representative Bob Tonkin. Before that, the PIAA rejected the idea on two separate occasions since 2000.

Shortened season: Along with the expanded classes, the season will also be reduced from 16 weeks to 15. That change was also voted on and approved at Wednesday's meeting, with the second scrimmage date now open to being the first regular-season date.

"That was the most important piece, is we're going to 15 weeks," Kennedy said. "And that's what we got, so now the season is going to be reduced and our playoffs will be reduced as well. You're not going to have the 16 vs. 1 football playoff like we used to have. The playoff system will be tweaked and you're not going to have the 16 vs. 1."

Other sports expanded: The board also voted to suspend protocol and skip the second reading of class expansion in other sports and go right to voting on the third reading. With a vote of 23-7, that vote passed, meaning a number of other high school sports will also have class expansion beginning July 1, 2016. Baseball, basketball and softball will expand from four to six classes, like football; boys' and girls' soccer and girls' volleyball will go from three to four classes; field hockey will expand from two to three classes; and boys' and girls' lacrosse will expand to two classes.

It came as a bit of a shock that the board elected to suspend protocol and go right into voting for the final reading of expansion in other sports. The football discussion has been on-going for the better part of the last year, while the reading for the other sports occurred in the span of five minutes on Wednesday evening.

"We studied football for over a year and we took about five minutes to do the other sports," Kennedy said. "And not that we're not in favor of it, but I think the one thing that we've done a really good job of is going out and talking to the people that we work for, and that's our schools, because that's the important piece. ... We really feel that, in that case, we'd like to take that out to our schools to get their input and that's the only reason we voted no was because we feel like we need to talk to them about it. Well, we can talk to them about it now, because it passed."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker.