Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Watered Down? Are Too Many Teams in Playoffs? Third, Fourth Place Teams Often Face a Beatdown, but Once in a While They Pull Big Upset

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Watered Down? Are Too Many Teams in Playoffs? Third, Fourth Place Teams Often Face a Beatdown, but Once in a While They Pull Big Upset

Article excerpt

Two schools had merged four years ago to form Central Valley High School and everyone from teachers, administrators and coaches were trying to smooth the jointure of students from Monaca and Center. It was difficult at times, but the Central Valley football team helped mightily.

Central Valley ended up winning a WPIAL title in its first year of existence. It set the tone for the football program. For the school. For the district.

But that championship season of 2010 would have never happened if the WPIAL hadn't expanded its playoffs a little more than a decade earlier.

In 1998, the WPIAL started taking four teams from each conference to the playoffs. Twelve years later, Central Valley finished fourth in the Parkway Conference. The Warriors sneaked into the postseason, got hot at the right time and suddenly had memories to last a lifetime.

The 2014 WPIAL playoffs begin tonight with 32 games around the region. It marks the 16th anniversary of the playoff expansion, with 16 teams playing in four classifications.

Some believe the playoffs are watered down and it has been debated for some time whether over half of the teams in the 124- team WPIAL should be in the playoffs. Eight teams in this year's playoffs have won/loss records of less than .500, all in Class AAAA or AAA, and the first round will undoubtedly have some blowouts.

But a look at history says a few third- and fourth-place teams might be bracket busters. Central Valley coach Mark Lyons isn't quite sure where his program would be, or where the school would be, without that 2010 title and without the expanded playoff format.

"You ask the principals at our school. That championship set the tone for the merger," Lyons said. "I'm not so sure we're sitting here right now without still a conflict or separation between Monaca and Center kids, if we did not have that success the first year.

"I'm a fan of [expanded playoffs] because we're living proof. These days, it's a society that rewards kids. They just think 'What's in it for me?'

"If you can't sell them on their own personal rewards, then you've got to sell them on the team concept, and that's hard to do if they think they have nothing to play for after Week 3 or Week 4. That's just the way our society is."

Some fans will look at some of the blowouts in the first round and wonder if it's worth having fourth- or even third-place teams in the playoffs? But consider these expanded playoff factoids:

* Since at least four teams were taken to the playoffs from every conference in 1998, 11 teams that finished in fourth place have made it to at least the semifinals. Central Valley in 2010 and McKeesport in 1999 made it to title games.

* In the past five years, 10 teams that finished fourth in their conference have won at least one playoff game.

* In the past five years, 23 third-place teams have won at least one playoff game. In 2009, two third-place teams (Greensburg Central Catholic and Aliquippa) played for the WPIAL title. …

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