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May 31, 2011

PIAA considers shorter football season, other changes

The story is a favorite of those involved in high school sports across the state. It's especially popular in Aliquippa, the tiny former Steel Town that has churned out high school star after high school star.

Every time Darrelle Revis's name is brought up, talk moves to the 72 hours in 2003 that cemented his name in Pennsylvania high school lore.

The New York Jets corner was a star for Aliquippa's football team in 2003, about to embark on a college career that took him to Pitt before landing in the NFL. Revis and Aliquippa made it to the Class AA title game that season, facing off against Northern Lehigh on December 7. Aliquippa won 32-27, and Revis scored all five touchdowns for the Quips, tying a PIAA record. Revis played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive back, and returned kicks for the Quips in the title game, rushing for 91 yards, returning a blocked field goal 69-yards for a score, returning a kickoff 89 yards for a score, and intercepting a pass to go along with those touchdowns.

Two days later, Revis made his season debut for Aliquippa's basketball team against rival Beaver Falls. He scored 35 points, including nine in overtime, as Aliquippa won 86-82.

Revis' performance may never be matched. Not just because of the incredible athleticism and stamina it took, but because the PIAA moved one step closer to cutting the football season from 16 weeks to 15 weeks in its latest board meetings.

Critics have long said that the football season is too long - last fall's finals were played one week before Christmas - and that it has hampered the early season performance of basketball teams. While Revis was able to step onto the court with just a day of practice, most players have needed time to adjust to the court. Others have needed time to heal or catch up on school work.

Two proposals exist right now that would shorten the season a week. The board agreed late last week to examine those two proposals further in depth, including working out the feasibility of each plan, at their next meeting in July.

INSIDE THE TWO PROPOSALS

The two proposals are relatively similar. Neither touches the regular season, simply ensuring that the season is capped at 10 games. Special holiday games (such as the Easton/Phillipsburg Thanksgiving Day rivalry) would continue to exist outside of the regular season/playoff format. The difference occurs in how various districts are impacted by the plan.

The first proposal would introduce more subregions for smaller districts. Several districts are already in subregions, including one for Districts 6, 9, and 10 in Quad-A. That proposal would continue to allow for some flexibility in district playoff scheduling, keeping those district playoffs at 2-3 weeks.

The second proposal is more strictly designed, but allows for the district champion from all qualifying districts to avoid subregionals with a direct berth into the bracket.

The impact is different for almost every district. District 7 (the WPIAL) could potentially benefit, as an adjusted schedule could force the committee to design the bracket so that the WPIAL Quad-A champion is immediately slotted into the semifinal round. The WPIAL champion currently is slotted into the quarterfinal round in AAAA. Two other districts - District 3 and District 1 - are currently given semifinal berths in Quad-A.

"It was discussed and voted on during the Strategic Planning Committee session," WPIAL president Jack Fullen told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "The majority wanted to cut to 15 weeks. Some wanted to keep as-is, and one district wanted to expand to five or six classifications. We can live with the season being cut to 15 weeks. I'm sure other proposals might be introduced by the next meeting."

Reaction amongst coaches was mixed.

"We went 14 weeks last season, and our kids were pretty physically tired," Trinity coach Bill Ragni told the Harrisburg Patriot-News. "And mentally, our coaches were tired. I know how we felt in the 14th week. And if we'd played one more game after, I think we could have gotten up for it, but two more would have been really hard."

Carlisle coach Josh Oswalt wants to keep the current structure, telling the newspaper that it helps prepare the student-athletes for the next level.

"I know it's very long and drawn out, and it takes a toll on your body," he said. "But I think high school athletes are able to do it. If you are going to go to the next level, you have to deal with a 11-week season, and if you're lucky enough to make the playoffs, there's more."

NON-BOUNDARY SCHOOLS, CO-OPS ALSO DISCUSSED

The shorter season wasn't the only issue on the table during the discussions. The PIAA also made two decisions impacting the composition of schools and classifications. With schools facing tougher economic climates, the PIAA raised the enrollment cap for schools involved in co-ops to 300 students at a single-gender school, up from 225. With even large districts like Easton exploring athletic cutbacks, the PIAA said allowing smaller schools to combine forces will help keep student-athletes involved.

"With the economy hitting us as hard as it has, I think it influences our entire state. I think it's the way that many school districts would have to go going forward to provide athletic opportunities for students," District 12 chairman Rob Coleman toldthe Harrisburg Patriot-News.

That vote by the PIAA goes into effect immediately. Another more controversial one will continue be examined by the PIAA's strategic planning committee. As private schools become more prolific - and more dominant - throughout the state, several proposals have been developed to determine how to best classify those schools.

The one gaining the most traction is one that would basically promote private schools to larger classifications by using the PIAA's classification system. It avoids creating separate private and public state championships, and instead would force private schools - with theoretically more resources - to play tougher regular competition.

Under the plan, the state would do its traditional enrollment classification every two years for traditional boundary schools - public schools limited to those living in a given area. The top 25% largest enrollments of those schools would continue to be in Quad-A, the next 25% in Triple-A, etc. Then the PIAA would take the top 25% enrollment of non-boundary schools - including charter schools within public school districts that have open enrollment, such as Imhotep Charter in Philadelphia - and slot them in the four classifications.

The same design would hold true in smaller sports, with half in AAA and half in AA.

The idea isn't without opposition. The WPIAL has stated in the past it doesn't view reclassifying - or even separate championships - as solving the problem, which it sites as students transferring schools or being recruited by schools. And private schools will point out that they're in just as much danger economically. Private schools are closing (such as Pius X and Kennedy Kenrick merging to form Pope John Paul II School last year).

Any overhaul isn't likely to go into effect until the 2012-2013 school year at the earliest, even if a plan is developed over the summer.

PaPreps publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com



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