“We obviously want to continue with our premiere venues in the future,” said WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman. “This is not a stopping of that process. It's a bandaid for this year.”By Shelby Cassesse

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The WPIAL football championships will not be played at Heinz Field this year as the league hits pause on a decades-old tradition.

It’s one of several adjustments the WPIAL has made ahead of playoffs for football, volleyball, field hockey and soccer to lower the risk of coronavirus spread.

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WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman told KDKA that for fall sports playoffs, the higher seed in each matchup will host through the semifinals. The finals will then be the only games played at neutral sites, which will likely be other high schools offering their gym or stadium.

“We’re trying to eliminate multiple teams coming into another facility,” Scheuneman said.

This year’s plan means the WPIAL will not use any premiere venues for its finals, including Heinz Field. The league has also used Highmark Stadium and RMU facilities for other sports in the past.

“We obviously want to continue with our premiere venues in the future,” Scheuneman said. “This is not a stopping of that process. It’s a bandaid for this year.”

Along with safety, Scheuneman also cited the financial implications of playing in a premier venue. She said the league wants to avoid a situation where it pays for the venues and has to cancel last minute if teams begin seeing positive coronavirus cases.

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Heinz Field has maintained a reputation as the pinnacle of high school sports in western Pennsylvania. The significance of playing a game at the home of the Steelers and Pitt Panthers isn’t lost on Pine-Richland head football coach Eric Kasperowicz, who has led his Rams to Heinz Field four times with three wins.

“Go in the locker rooms, play in the stadium is a one-of-a-kind experience,” he said. “But this is a weird year, a crazy year. We aren’t going to be able to do it, so that’s OK.”

The Rams are one of a handful of teams who have had a game canceled this year. Their Sept. 25 matchup with Gateway was canceled after two students at Gateway High tested positive for coronavirus.

Canceled games make it more difficult for the WPIAL to judge which teams will make the playoffs, which is why the league is tweaking its playoff team selection criteria.

The process is normally heavily based on wins and losses, but the WPIAL is prepared to look at a team’s full body of work if need be.

“It was the top two teams based on record and then Gardner Points,” Scheuneman said of the typical system. “Gardner Points can’t be used if all of the games are not completed.”

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For example, the more subjective criteria could be used to compare two teams on the bubble or determining wild card teams for football playoffs.