In the three decades I’ve covered wrestling, I have seen a number of different ways the WPIAL sets up its team portion of the season.
I am torn between thinking the current format is either flawed or a remarkable stroke of genius that might actually restore interest in the sport.
The first part of the elimination process – and I use that term loosely – is the Section Team Tournament, which will be held Wednesday with seven doubleheaders, one in each of the four Class AAA and three Class AA sections. None of the teams participating in these doubleheaders will be eliminated from next week’s WPIAL Team Tournament. This is an event to determine the section champion and make the seeding process for next week’s event a little easier.
The fifth-place bouts, which determine the final qualifier from the section, won’t even be held at these sites. No matter, because it matches the third-place teams in each subsection and that might not be the most interesting wrestling of the season.
A few years ago, the WPIAL broke up the sections into subsections, labeling them A and B, and shortening the section schedule for those teams from nine to five dual meets in most cases.
That freed up teams to schedule long-standing rivals not in their section or add another tournament to fill the allotted scheduling points.
It also eliminated a large portion of the lopsided dual meets that sometimes had more forfeits than bouts. It’s hard to charge fans a ticket price for a dual meet that lasts 20 minutes and only has three or four competitive bouts. They still exist but in fewer numbers.
This system comes at a cost. It has de-emphasized the dual meet, which I have always felt was the backbone of the team season. Believe me, I’m grateful for not having to sit through a 60-point rout as often as I used to, but many teams have chosen to add a tournament rather than dual meets to fill the schedule. Many of those tournaments are outside the area.
Peters Township and Chartiers-Houston passed up this season’s Tri-County Athletic Directors Association Tournament in favor of the Virginia Duals. Canon-McMillan did the same thing two years ago because of a date change.
Imagine what a regular season match would be like between Canon-McMillan and Latrobe. Or Jefferson-Morgan and Burrell. Or South Fayette and Derry. The flexibility of this format is not producing those matches.
The Section Team Tournament pared a week from the regular season, making it just six weeks long, with time off for Christmas and New Year’s. The postseason is seven weeks long. Some wrestlers on teams that did not make the postseason will have to wait at least three weeks to be in a competitive event again.
It’s also clear that by making the dual meets more rare, interest seems to have picked up.
Crowds at the matches I’ve covered have been large, though I have no way to quantify that other than by using the eye test.
The Trinity-Canon-McMillan dual meet drew more fans this year than in the any of the past three seasons, and it was not hard to figure out this was not going to be a close match.
Fewer dual meets producing larger crowds? That’s good.
Making the regular season shorter than the postseason, and not producing more compelling dual meets? Not so good.
Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.