PIAA looks to fix length of season

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (TNS)

After football championships held just six days before Christmas, the PIAA is acknowledging a chief complaint from coaches.

Pittsburgh Central Catholic's J.J. Younger carries against Parkland during the PIAA Class AAAA football championship game on Saturday.

The season lasts too long.

“It doesn't happen like this all the time, but it's one of the driving forces because it's the week before Christmas,” said Mars athletic director and football coach Scott Heinauer, a WPIAL representative on the PIAA Board of Directors.

“They don't want to see it go this long. It's an awful long season, especially this year. Then you add the heat acclimation on top of this.”

The PIAA-mandated five days of heat acclimation practices, which began Aug. 10, pushed the start of training camp back to Aug. 17.

It had a detrimental effect on the basketball programs at Aliquippa and Central Catholic, whose football teams, which include several basketball players, reached the PIAA finals.

That, coupled with a later start date in basketball, had Central Catholic athletic director and boys basketball coach Chuck Crummie concerned about the adverse effects of the late season.

“First of all, they take two weeks of practice away from you, and then you're not going to have your kids if the season goes until mid-December,” Crummie said. “So they hit you twice.”

That especially was troubling to Crummie the past two years, as Central lost in the 2013 PIAA football final and the 2014 WPIAL final.

With section play starting before Christmas, the absence of football players hurt the Vikings' basketball team. Central missed the playoffs by one game each of the past two seasons.

“In the old days, you might have played one section game, maybe two before the break,” Crummie said. “Nowadays, you might play four, and you can put yourself in a bind. It's early in the season, and anything can happen.

“It's something you have to live with and, hopefully, get better as the season goes on. We do that, but when you pick up one or two losses early, it can hurt. You're in a dogfight until the end.”

One of the problems with the schedule is the start date, which was Sept. 4 this year. Heinauer said a WPIAL proposal to start contact practices the second Monday of August was defeated.

“The biggest factor is the PIAA bases their calendar off Labor Day,” Heinauer said. “That's a sentiment in the East. That's the anchor what all of their sports are based off. We in the WPIAL had a proposal on the table to anchor all fall sports off the second week in August. That fell on deaf ears out there.”

Even though the PIAA is expanding football to six classifications next season, it has adopted one measure to shorten the season. Instead of two mandatory scrimmages, the PIAA is giving the option of having either two scrimmages or substituting the second with a regular-season game.

Another proposal by the PIAA steering committee would see all six state championship games played the same weekend.

If approved by its board of directors, the PIAA would hold one state final at 7 p.m. Thursday, two Friday (1 p.m. and 7 p.m.) and three Saturday (11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.). The games would be held Dec. 8-10, 2016.

The WPIAL cannot schedule its football championships until the PIAA establishes whether WPIAL champions join the state playoffs in the semifinals or quarterfinals.

“A lot depends upon (what happens) when the state football brackets come out in January,” Heinauer said. “That's a huge thing.”