“Mr. High School Sports” – Tim O’Malley’s ‘Bracketology’
By Matt Popchock
“I said, ‘Okay, show of hands, how many people feel North Allegheny should be seeded number one?’ It was overwhelming.”
If WPIAL Chief Executive Tim O’Malley was speaking the truth, then what was believed to be the toughest decision facing his Football Steering Committee at the Radisson Hotel in Greentree Monday night was actually a relative no-brainer for them.
“It wasn’t unanimous, but it was much more so than Jeannette being seeded ahead of Seton-LaSalle,” O’Malley said after the 2011 WPIAL Football Playoff brackets were unveiled. “There’s a lot of debate, and everybody throws their two cents in. But that one wasn’t real hard.”
Let the debating begin…
In the meantime, according to O’Malley, figuring out the top of the Quad-A bracket was not as difficult as deciding what to do with Class AAA.
The committee aims to balance each bracket as much as it feels is prudent, trying to avoid deliberate rematches of recent regular season games, and trying to ensure no particular conference monopolizes any of the four postseason football tournaments.
“Montour and Rochester’s spots got debated a lot; they were both finalists, and they’re on the same side as the teams they faced last year. But where are you going to put them?” O’Malley wondered aloud. “You can’t take away what teams like Bishop Canevin and Franklin Regional have accomplished.”
In Class AAA the Spartans were seeded fifth. Parkway Conference rival Central Valley, which beat them last November to capture its first WPIAL crown, earned the No. 1 seed, meaning the two could meet again in the Semifinals.
There are two Parkway Conference teams on either side of the bracket, and for the last five seasons, at least one team from said conference has reached Heinz Field.
“What got debated the most was the strength of that conference,” O’Malley said.
“This team and this team are in the same conference, played a hell of a game, and played in the WPIAL Final last year,” he noted, pointing to Central Valley and Montour on a copy of the Class AAA bracket. “But you can not remove from fact what these two accomplished,” he said, citing Franklin Regional, the No. 2 seed, and Knoch, the No. 3 seed.
“You might argue who should be second and who should be third, but I think [awarding them the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds] was fairly consensus.”
Similarly, O’Malley said the strength of the Midwestern Conference in Class AA, which includes three-time finalist (two-time runner-up) and No. 1 seed Aliquippa, was also carefully weighed.
“Last year we had two MAC teams in the Semifinals. You want to split those teams up, but not at the expense of the integrity of the bracket,” O’Malley said, referring to the Quips and Beaver Falls.
Beaver Falls could conceivably play an all-MAC Semifinal against Beaver this year. The same can be said for Aliquippa, which shares its side of the bracket with No. 13 seed Ellwood City.
Having said that, aligning Class A–specifically, Rochester, as O’Malley mentioned–was a much more difficult endeavor this year. Maybe even the toughest of all.
The Rams, who ultimately were given the No. 4 seed for finishing behind No. 2 seed Sto-Rox in the Big 7 Conference, were part of a top six in Class A that also included Clairton (an obvious No. 1 seed), No. 3 seed Bishop Canevin (the Eastern Conference champion), No. 5 seed Avonworth (the Eastern Conference runner-up), and No. 6 seed Beth-Center (the Tri-County South Conference champion).
“The debate went down to the fact that your finalists in Class A from last year (Clairton and Rochester) were on the same side of the bracket. The talk went to moving [Rochester] over here,” O’Malley explained, pointing to Sto-Rox’s side of the bracket, “or moving them down, which wouldn’t have been fair to a team that is clearly the fourth-best team in the bracket. The committee went for what we felt was the consensus strength of the teams involved.”
He then shifted his attention from the piece of paper to his eager Bracketology students.
“Did we get it right, those top six?”
Works for me, Professor O’Malley.
Click here for a look at all 32 First Round matchups for the 2011 WPIAL Football Playoffs.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)