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It’s Time for Pennsylvania to Go to Six Classifications

Written by: on Thursday, January 1st, 2015. Follow Staff on Twitter.


Written by Phil Myers of


The topic on whether the PIAA should elect to go to 6 (or even just 5) classes for football has been debated for years. After reading the “Proposed Changes to the PIAA Football Playoff Format” report and doing some research, it is apparent the time has come to move forward and make the change. This article will present arguments for the change to 6 classes and refute the basic arguments against. It will briefly detail what should go hand in hand with the move to 6 classifications, and that is reducing the number of weeks in the season to 15, with the possibility of beginning a week early. And it will present an innovative idea which another state has implemented that eventually levels the playing field. I sat down with the District 9 football chairman and secretary/treasurer, Bob Tonkin, who is the architect behind the 6 class proposal. He patiently answered all questions thrown at him and it was obvious he had put a lot of thought into this plus had done a monumental amount of research. Implementing the change will take a year for the PIAA to iron out the exact details, so 2016 would be the first year for 6 classes. This also coincides with the start of the next two year cycle.

But we get ahead of ourselves. First of all, let’s compare PA to other states in the number of teams, the number of classifications, and the ratios of classes to total number of teams. Pennsylvania is fifth in the number of schools with football at 581 behind California, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas. Currently the Keystone State is second only to California in the ratio of classes to total number of teams at 1 to 145. Besides California and Pennsylvania, only New York, Ohio, and Texas have ratios of 1 to 100 or more. If PA went to 6 classes our ratio would fall to 1 to 97 which would still rank as the fifth largest ratio in the country. Yet we are one of only 16 states with 4 classes or less, joining the likes of Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, and the Dakotas to name a few. In fact, of those other 15 states in addition to PA with 4 or less classes, only three have more than 100 teams. And none has more than 187 teams! It also should be noted that only six other states even have five classes, meaning 30 out of 50 have at least six classes! We’ll take a moment here to refute one of the arguments against class expansion. We have heard people say, ” You may as well give everyone a trophy.” or “Six classes will cheapen the championships.” Raising the number of state champions by two, from 4 to 6, out of 581 teams is hardly giving everyone a trophy or cheapening anything. In reality, the percentage of increase is insignificant. Given the size of Pennsylvania, it is obvious that we are far behind the rest of the country and we have some catching up to do.

Another reason to go to 6 classes is that there will be less of a discrepancy in enrollment and, to a degree, the number of participating athletes per classification. I’ll use DuBois as an example. For years DuBois people have complained that they had to go up against Altoona, St. College, or Erie McDowell in the playoffs. (Altoona is now in the WPIAL) Those three schools rank in the top 30 of the largest schools in PA.

I know there are other factors besides depth, but the larger school argument will become a moot point. Also, from a fans point of view, I’ve looked at where the lines would probably be drawn and I’m telling you there are going to be far more intriguing match ups with six classes than there were with four. People are still going to say, “How do you compete with the Archbishop Woods, the Clairtons, the South Fayettes, and back in the day, the So. Columbias and the Berwicks?” This might be the time to interject the rule that the state of Indiana has implemented, and that is the two-year tournament success factor. The gist of this rule is that if a team, in a two year period, receives enough points because they had success, then for the next two year cycle they move up to the next enrollment class. I will use Indianapolis Cathedral as an example. They won the 4A Championship four years in a row and had to move up to 5A. They won the 5A Title the past two years and next year they move up to 6A. And they are relishing the chance to prove themselves once again! After moving up, if you only have some success or do not succeed, you will remain at that level or fall back to where you were in the prior two year period depending on the points you earned in those two years. Wouldn’t it be grand to see Archbishop Wood and St. Joes Prep someday in the semis or finals? How about South Fayette and Central Valley or back in the day, Berwick and CBW or Southern Columbia and Aliquippa?

Pennsylvania is still a ‘hotbed’ for high school football. We rank in the top ten as far as the number of recruits for college. This was verified when I met one of Pitt’s ex-ADs at a Slippery Rock high school game a couple of years ago, who had done a study. But he also said the Keystone State has fallen down the list of states for recruiting. Part of that reason is exposure. Going to six classes will help give more kids that exposure. Sure we have all that modern technology, youtube, recruiting services, etc., but there is nothing like actually seeing the kid live on the big stage! That probably explains why for example, Lou Holtz came to see Ron Powlus all those years ago or more recently when Urban Meyer came to see Noah Spence. (Although that did not pan out in the long run, Urban must have liked what he saw.)

There are a couple more areas that support the idea of six classes. One is districts can crown more champs, if they are large enough. With 6 classes they can also expand their tournament using the tenth play date if they want. Also, there is the matter of finances. According to Mr.Tonkin this may be an area that needs to be addressed by the PIAA especially for districts and how the revenue is split between them and the PIAA as the playoffs progress. But, the simple fact is 6 classes will mean more playoff games and more money. If there are more games, attendance will increase. If the PIAA moves the season up a week and cuts it to 15 weeks for the 6 classes, I believe attendance will increase far more than the current 16 week season ending in mid December or later. What this means is that most of the season will be played when the weather is nice and it is only logical that better weather means bigger crowds. Plus you are not playing games close to the Christmas shopping season. No other northern state finishes as late as PA! In fact, only 8 other states in the whole country finish as late as us or later!

Let’s look at this through the players’ eyes. If you make it to the state title game, you will have played 16 straight weeks. No college or pro teams play 16 straight weeks without at least a bye. By ending a week or two early (and going to 6 classes allows this more than 4 classes) the kids can make a smoother transition into the winter sport they participate in. They will not miss as many practices or games/matches. Also, as noted above, poor weather is a factor. I’m sure every kid will tell you he would much rather practice for district title games and state playoffs when the weather is still decent. Who really wants to play games or practice in 20 degree windy weather and the field is frozen? Additionally, look at this through the eyes of the band members (and cheerleaders for that matter). They too are part of the high school football experience. I love to watch bands perform at half time and feel really bad when I see them trying to stay warm. It is not easy to be marching around playing an instrument when you are freezing.

An argument against moving the season up a week is the heat acclimation factor. “Too hot!”, I’ve heard some say. Anyone besides me notice that there are more and more 7 on 7 tournaments and linemen challenges throughout the summer. If I’m not mistaken, a few teams from Pennsylvania travel down south for those 7 on 7s. And we true high school football fans usually watch games on ESPN a week before PA begins which usually involve teams from the south or southwest. The point here is that the heat argument has no merit. The kids play 7 on 7 most of the summer and states a lot warmer than us begin at least a week before we do.

Before we address one additional argument against expansion to 6 classes, let’s look at some time lines and unofficial polls. There is an executive meeting of the coaches association later in January of 2015 where the 6 classifications and changing to 15 weeks will be discussed. From what I am hearing it appears the majority of coaches are in favor of change. Mr. Tonkin believes most ADs are on board also. That means if there are no surprises, the proposal will be approved by the coaches association. I’ve heard from a reliable source that most coaches from District 7 are in favor and that is huge as we will see later. Of course a lot can go on behind the scenes which may counter this initiative, but Pennsylvania, to reiterate an earlier point, is so far behind the rest of the country we need to do something. The new grass roots effort may be the thing that helps the proposal come to fruition. Secondly, is the Steering Committee which will be meeting in March and this once a year gathering will mainly focus on the 6 classifications.

Finally, if the proposal is approved by the Steering Committee, the PIAA Board must approve.
That is where there is the most resistance and it comes from just a few districts. There are 31 members and some are adamant about not changing. But if the district reps on the board would swallow some pride and listen to their constituents this thing just may pass. Some of those against are the D-7 people. Their issues vary from the ‘WPIAL being older than the PIAA and we’ll do what we want’ good old boy argument to wanting to keep their 16 team per class and having the finals at Heinz Field tradition. What ever happened to let’s do what is best for the state as a whole? Besides, with some ingenuity they could still have the playoffs at Heinz, it would just have to be over two days, say a Thursday and Friday. This is where the D-7 coaches and ADs come in. They could put pressure on their reps and even if they could get a couple to change their mind it may have a domino type of effect on the other districts who are dragging feet.

There is another district in the west who has a rep dead set against this progression into a new era. Mr. Tonkin has talked with the coaches from some of the schools who were in the playoffs and they are totally for the change. Hopefully, they can put some pressure on their rep to at least consider the idea. One other observation on this subject is, though I may be all wet, I think part of the problem with the districts against the proposal is that their leaders may be lazy and do not want to do the extra work that would be involved if PA goes to 6 classes.

Many things have been presented here and I know there are details that need ironed out, but Pennsylvania high school football is at a crossroads. We have to take a step forward into a new era. It is not fool proof, but I’m confident all issues can and will be worked out. The PIAA is made up of intelligent people with a mind for the kids first and hopefully they do the right thing. There are those that can be swayed to change and there are those who absolutely refuse to give in to change. Here’s hoping the former wins out, because if it does Pennsylvania wins too.

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35 Responses to “It’s Time for Pennsylvania to Go to Six Classifications”

  1. Billy Splain says:


  2. Coach Shea says:

    @Billy…Are those the Male enrollment or Total Enrollment?

  3. Billy Splain says:

    @coach shea: 6 classes

    these are the proposed numbers…

  4. Coach Shea says:

    @Billy Question: Where would the following teams land under the new SiX Classification if passed? (District 12) Judge, Roman, Ryan, West, and Neum.-Gor.

  5. Kevin X says:

    This is the no brainer of all no brainers. ’bout time. Should of been implemented a long time ago. As far as D7 goes, if they aren’t on board, so be it. Let them take their ball and go pouting home to mommy. The rest of the state doesn’t need them and we’ll all move forward and be all the better without them. Good riddance.

  6. ccrider2262 says:

    Won’t happen if the WPIAL exerts their muscles. They are dead set against it even if the majority of AD’s and coaches are for it. There is no way on earth they are going to lose the revenue generated from the initial 64 playoff games to the 8 teams that go to Heinz Field. They get Heinz “scott free” from the Rooney family to use for the day. No way will they be able to get it for two days in a row with it being natural grass, Pitt’s home field as well as the Steelers. I think it’s a good idea but needs some tweaking. Regarding throwing D-8 into the WPIAL. Won’t happen. WPIAL doesn’t want the City of Pittsburgh schools and D-8 doesn’t want to be in the WPIAL. They two have always been separate and do not get along. I just don’t see it happening in the current environment. The WPIAL isn’t going to give up the tradition of playing their championship games in a Professional Stadium. They started with the old Three Rivers Stadium and now Heinz Field. They’re not going to go for it to make other Districts happy. I could easily foresee the WPIAL dropping out of the PIAA Championships for football if this would happen. The support is there en masse.

  7. mark d says:

    i think 5 would be enough. Everything i see here is everyone looking for a problem, everyone want change but doesn’t want anything to change. To make this work of course their has to be change, and the bugs will have to be weeded out of the system i believe in the long run that it will be better

  8. Comets Fan says:

    Although whats another 6 teams? Is that what D8 is down to now? If so, I would agree they should merge with D7. But, in my humble opinion, D7 is too big, and wields too much power and influence.

  9. Comets Fan says:

    Isn’t D7 already big enough?

  10. Billy Splain says:

    @JoshF…I don’t think the districts need realigned but I do agree with the D8 comment. They could easily be moved to D7

  11. JoshF says:

    While discussion of 6 classes (though I think 5 would work better) is a start. It should go hand in hand with realigning or consolidating PIAA districts. Especially as it relates to Big schools out of districts with predominately smaller schools like 2/4/6/9. Or that D-8 even exists

  12. Phil says:

    Comets Fan –
    For 10 week season, presume that 2 of the 4 teams in 6A are in the playoffs and that is your D-2 championship. For 9 weeks, actually all 4 ‘could’ be in. There are other districts around the state that are currently in the same situation and yes they have 2 teams play for the district title. Yes, if PA goes to 6 classes more than likely there would be subregionals. I don’t think any one said there would be less, although I get your point where currently a couple teams from the same district is in what the state calls a subregional. Look we can argue from district to district what they want to do and maybe don’t want to do if 6 classes come about. The time, in my opinion, has come to expand. I believe it, along with a 15 week season, will be beneficial to more teams for the fact PA can start catching up with the rest of the country and will benefit the kids for the reasons mentioned in the article.

  13. Colin says:

    Comets Fan,

    I think you have hit on an issue that some people may be missing here. You mentioned the likely merger of the WB schools. In the past several years there have been more than a few mergers of school districts around the state. D7 has had several schools merge. Another is happening next year. More could be on the way for that district. D10 had the Connueat merger this year. Im sure ive missed a few others. In Phila several Catholic and Public schools have closed and I don’t think its a big stretch to think that more are on the way….I will say that I think 6 classes is too many…..Billy and Phil, I believe 5 classes is more appropriate. I think the enrollment # in 4A is too big from top to bottom. Rework the #s and make a 5A division. Personally I think in the end a few of the powers that be will get cold feet and this proposal will fall short.

  14. Comets Fan says:

    Sorry I didn’t see that article from 13 months ago. I either forgot I read it, or I just didn’t see it.

    Either way, thanks for helping to illustrate my point. If this SIX class proposal goes through, D2 A will have two (2) teams, D2 AAAAA would have four (4) teams, and D2 AAAAA will only have 3 teams (Williamsport is D4). Handing out district championships in these D2 classes will be just like handing out “participation trophies”. That’s my concern. D4 would be in a similar situation in three out the six classes.

    23 out of 36 D2 teams making the playoffs is a JOKE. It would also kill the Eastern Conference tournament. Plus, you claim there would be no subregional for D2 AAAAA in the 9 game season scenario? How is that possible? The only subregional D2 currently participates in the D2/D4/D11 AAAA subregional? These proposals (5 classes or 6 classes) will make it necessary to create more subregionals, not less.

  15. Coach Shea says:

    With the new Classification…would it be possible to have cross state games as well!!!

  16. Jacob C says:

    @ Comets Fan

    Here is a post from a site in district 2 from December of 2013 about this issue. After reading this article I remembered seeing it. I haven’t heard much locally besides this post over a year ago.

  17. Phil says:

    Comets Fan –
    You raise a question that all “small” districts could ask. Keep in mind the reasons to expand are to bring PA up to date with the rest of the country, to level the playing field a little more, to give more teams and especially the players exposure, and so on as stated in the article. To do this there would have to be some subregionals. Don’t really think it is a problem when looking at the whole picture. (District 8 only has a total of 6 teams!) Two of my scenarios for your district are as follows and I won’t go into more than just general details. First, let’s assume the PIAA goes to a 15 week max season. If the regular season is 9 games, D-2 could “possibly” have 23 teams in the playoffs! Only 1A would be in a subregion. If the regular season is 10 games, Class 1A and 5A would be in subregions with a total of 12-13 teams making the playoffs. I would have no inkling as to what the PIAA would do, although I think it would be in the neighborhood of my projections.

  18. Comets Fan says:

    I’m in D2, and honestly, this site is the only talk about I have heard about this proposed expansion. There has been no mention of it on the local web sites, talk shows, or newspapers. Of course I have no idea what our district administrator thinks of this proposal, but the fans and local media haven’t even heard whispers of it.

    My problem with this expansion is that D2 only has 36 schools playing football. Probably less in a few years when the three Wilkes-Barre high schools (GAR, Meyers, Coughlin) merge. Right now we only have four (4) single A teams, and only three (3) AAAA teams. Creating two more divisions or classes means that some classes in D2 will have, at the most, one or two teams. Obviously in these situations the PIAA would establish subregionals, like they do with AAAA in D2/D4/D11. But my concern with this proposal is handing out 6 district titles out of 36 teams. Just seems disproportionate. In D7, with their 125 schools, having 2 more district champs wouldn’t “water down” the end result. But in the smaller districts (D4 only has 30 teams) this proposal would just dilute the state playoff field with the one or two team districts.

    For example, in all of D2 and D4 (about 25% of the state), there are only four (4) AAAA teams. In D4 AAA there are only 6 teams. How can the PIAA reasonably split classes and make these districts even smaller?

  19. Billy Splain says:

    @coach Shea…let me rephrase…d12/d7 teams draw from a population much much larger than any other area. I really don’t mean to offend anyone with this thought. I look at the trends and I see in the last 6 years 12 times D12/d7 prep/cath schools teams are in the AA,AAA,AAAA games. That’s a pretty good percentage alone and shows a big trend that I really don’t see slowing down. D3 is also growing in leaps and bounds. I guess when you step back it’s where the population is growing. Maybe I’m wrong, but the debate is there. Please again, take no offense. I love all PA football and support every team playing. This years title games were amazing. I guess I’d just like to see the state a little more even so the “middle” areas have a chance.

  20. Coach Shea says:

    I would love to see the new classification! Also, @Billy…Please Specifically explain how we (12) have and “extremely unfair advantage” in the recruiting process. I don’t see that at all! Help me understand.

  21. Billy Splain says:

    i will add that most of D7 IS in favor of this proposal.

  22. Kmac says:

    Last post

    “knowlegable” of course, sorry on the type.

  23. Kmac says:

    Rollie Ciffo

    My answer was based on only my thoughts that were requested by Phil regarding Districts 1, 2, 4, and 11. Your comment regarding D7 is great news for the possibility of 6 classes happening. But as far as D1 and D11, D12 has prevented their 4A and 3A from even GETTING TO states in a general statement since D12 PCL became eligible. Always enjoy your knowledable posts, thanks Rollie.

  24. Billy Splain says:

    rollie, you are incorrect..D7 isn’t pushing this, it’s the “center” districts..i.e. those not in philly and pbrg where recruiting is much harder. sorry to say, but mostly philly…who has an extremely unfair advantage and without legislation something must be done..this is as close as can be found

  25. Rollie Ciffo says:

    Districts 1, 2, 4, 11? These extra classifications are desired by none other than District 7 (WPIAL). Why? Because ever since District 12 came in they (7) have not been winning those state titles in Class AAAA and Class AAA. But in the interest of progress I would agree if the PIAA redistricted Districts 3 and 7. We could use 2 more districts to spread things a bit more evenly. They (3 & 7) each control the highest number of schools and wield considerable clout. Reducing their number of schools would make all districts work together instead of simply doing whatever the WPIAL wants.

  26. Phil says:

    Kmac and Jive –
    My understanding is that districts would be left alone, but in some classes in certain areas of the state there may have to be sub-regionals or whatever you would call a combination of districts for playoffs. But that is an issue I am sure can be discussed and fine tuned. The thought of a super conference in 6A between D-1 and D-12 would be amazing if they could work the scheduling out. If that happens I would definitely find time to travel cross the state to see a couple games especially if one of you had room for a high school football bum for a night. I generally travel an hour or two most weeks anyhow, what’s another couple hours. For the playoffs I drew up several scenarios that depend on variables such as how many weeks in the regular season (9 or 10) and which districts may be in the brackets from the opposite side of the state (i.e. D-6 in east for Single A right now). These are some of the details that also need worked on, but I believe it would actually be fun. And it would make for some interesting playoff games! Remember no matter what you do someone will not be happy. It just needs to be done and maybe tweaked every now and again.

  27. Kmac says:


    You are SO right about that kind of a league! A couple of years back I was really happy to see both PCL 4A semi finals which were held at Harry S. Truman on consecutive Friday and Saturday nights. LaSalle, Prep, Roman, Judge in two evenings; really great football.

  28. Jive Turkey says:

    I actually love the success factor you brought into the article. I honestly have no idea of PIAA’s intentions as far as adding classes. The general feeling I get from board posters is that Prep, LaSalle, Wood, Tep having the advantage of open enrollment and putting them into a higher/the highest class. I looked at the enrollment numbers and have no clue how they could make it work in the PCL. Does the pub and PCL combine for the regular season? Does D12 and D1 combine some leagues to make a power conference? There seems to be many factors to be considered before the class additions can be done. I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but this topic has really peaked my interest. One thing I think I would absolutely love to see would be a combination D12/D1 6A class. It would be great to see the PCL have an 8-10 game league schedule where every game matters. I think Kmac would agree that a league that consists of Prep, LaSalle, Judge, Roman, Wood, North Penn, Neshaminy, Pennsbury, Coatesville, and D-town East would be a blast. That would be a hell of a 6A Eastern division!

  29. Kmac says:


    While I do not have any inside to any district thinking, I would think that there would be interest particularly in Districts 1,2,4 & 11, the primary antagonists of D12 in the large class schools. Jive’s post was most interesting as always. Certainly a scenario that could happen, but I still wonder if the “cycle theory” (a future subject for an article of mine)might still undermine the results.

  30. Phil says:

    Kmac & Jive Turkey: thanks for support! Love reading your stuff on EPA! I don’t think the success factor will be discussed in the 6 class proposal as it is a suggestion I had. Though I understand it may be or will be down the road. Jive, quite honestly, being from the west I really and quite honestly did not specifically have D-12 in mind. I can assure you Mr. Tonkin did not have D-12 in mind either. Can’t speak for others though. The success factor is just something Indiana does to maintain some parity and I happened to think it would be great for PA. Sure I was thinking of Wood, but also of Clairton and S. Fayette. Do you guys think the 6 class proposal will be receptive to some or all districts in the east?

  31. Jive Turkey says:

    If PIAA is on board to go to 6, then I’m on board to go to 6. I don’t like the way they’re going about it but I think the majority of the folks out there want a change. Let’s be honest as to why there is a push for a change. Prep and Wood both going back to back and having the 2 highest levels being won by district 12 two years in a row, with no end in sight. The supporters of the change can tell you about how this state does this and that state does that, but the reason for this is to have all of the power teams from D12 in the same class by 2018. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disagreeing with it, I just wish somebody would be honest and tell it like it is. Let’s make the change next year and see how it goes. Here is a scenario. 6A champ SJP, 5A champ Wood, 3A champ Imhotep, and 1A champ West for ’16 and ’17. Then they move them all to 6A and D12 wins one of the six titles for 2 years. Then the teams that lose go back to their original class for 2 years and win again. Just a worst case scenario, however not that far fetched. Well at least we could stop the whining about D12 being too good for 2 year stretches. If they’re gonna add more classes I’m all for it, just be honest why it’s being done.

  32. Billy Splain says:

    KMAC: Now:
    1a…1-74…145 schools
    2a…175-299..146 schools
    3a…300-492..145 schools
    4a…493-infinity..145 schools

    6 classes

  33. Kmac says:

    Thanks, Billy.

  34. Billy Splain says:

    I’ll post them later Kmac

  35. Kmac says:

    Sold! I am 100% in your camp, Phil. In December I had written two articles on the classification issue which were just to stimulate thought on the subject without resolution that David has not yet published. I asked him to can them now as your well-researched article gives us the answers. Is it possible to print the new proposed classification numbers just to see where teams would fall based on the current enrollment numbers? Tremendous job Phil!
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