COLUMN By JOHN WALK
At its May 21 meeting, the PIAA Board of Directors is expected to approve the expansion of the individual brackets for each weight class, from 16 wrestlers to 20, for both the Class AAA and Class AA state tournaments.
If approved, the new format will be put into place beginning next year.
The motion was recently passed by the PIAA Wrestling Steering Committee. And according to various reports, prep wrestling coaches from across the state are almost unanimously in favor of this. Count a pair of longtime coaches from two of the most successful York-Adams League programs among them.
“I think in Pennsylvania the top 20 are pretty good, is the way I’m looking at it,” said Tony Miller, the coach of Spring Grove the last 17 seasons. “Just in our area the difficulty of getting out of District 3 is quite an accomplishment.”
“I think it promotes the sport, too,” said Dave McCollum, who just completed his 37th year coaching Bermudian Springs. “It gives another four kids an opportunity.”
Here’s how the new setup would look for the Class AAA tournament: The Northwest region will stay with the top-three qualifiers making states, the Northeast and Southwest regions will each move to four, and the South Central (District 3) and Southeast regions will send four or five wrestlers — the fifth berth will alternate year-to-year between those last two regions.
For Class AA, each of the four regions would get an additional qualifier, meaning the Southeast region, in which York-Adams League teams such as Bermudian Springs compete, would send the top six qualifiers to states. Had this setup been in place this past season, Bermudian Springs senior Ted Marines would have made it to states in the 145-pound bracket. Marines finished sixth at regionals, losing by a point to Boiling Springs junior John Vaughn in the fifth-place match.
Little impact: I’m not so sure if this expansion will improve the state tournament much, though. Just look at last year’s state tournaments. In Class AAA, all but five of the 28 wrestlers to reach the championship round were the top seed from their regions. The other five grapplers were No. 2 seeds. And all 14 state champions were No. 1 seeds from their regions. It was about the same in Class AA.
Maybe I would understand this move if there were No. 5 seeds upsetting higher seeds and winning gold and silver, similar to the Cinderellas we see every March in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. Just a few years ago, that tournament expanded from 65 to 68 teams. And we’ve seen plenty of surprise teams come out of nowhere to make a run in the big dance. Heck, the title game recently featured a No. 7 seed and a No. 8 seed.
However, I don’t think this translates for the PIAA wrestling tournaments. Even if they are very talented wrestlers, those on the fringe of qualifying for states likely won’t be wrestling for gold and silver. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be pretty cool to see it happen.
Other changes: There are a couple of other changes already in place for District 3 for next season. At its meeting two weeks ago, District 3 wrestling chairman Randy Umberger confirmed that the District 3 Wrestling Steering Committee approved a “true second” format for the District 3-AA team tournament.
The “true second” format will enable semifinal losers to wrestle each other, with the winner having the option to challenge the championship match loser if the two teams did not wrestle previously in the tournament. The top two teams from the District 3-AA tournament advance to the state tournament.
The push for this change was sparked after Boiling Springs and Bermudian Springs, widely considered the top two District 3-AA teams, were matched up in the district semifinals last year. Boiling Springs beat Bermudian on criteria and went on to win the district title and qualify for the state tournament. Bermudian, arguably the second-best team in the district, was left out of states.
“We need to have a true second format,” McCollum said. “To be quite honest I don’t understand why we haven’t done it long before this.”
Umberger said the committee, in order to have the most accurate power rankings for the District 3 team tournaments, also approved a requirement for teams to wrestle at least eight regular-season dual matches against teams from Pennsylvania and complete their league duals by the end-of-season cutoff date.
This should also make it tougher for teams to wrestle a very limited number of dual meets and still qualify for the district tournament. For example, Solanco last year had the No. 7 seed in the District 3-AAA team tourney despite having a record of just 5-1. Fourteen other teams in the tournament had wrestled at least 10 regular-season duals.
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.