The destination is the same, but it’s the route to get there that has changed.
The PIAA voted last year to expand the number of classes in some sports, including six classes for football, basketball, baseball and softball.
The changes take effect this fall, and coaches, athletic directors and fans will all be adapting.
For some, it means very little changes. Rivalries in the regular and postseasons remain.
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But in other cases, there may be some new and different opponents come playoff time, and the available bids to the state tournaments may also be altered.
The easy, general summary for Centre County’s schools?
State College will be in the largest class, whatever number of A’s that may bring, and will continue to go through the state’s biggest school districts.
At the other end, St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy and Grace Prep are in the smallest of classes and will remain for the foreseeable future.
In between, county rivals Penns Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola and Bald Eagle Area must still go through each other, in the same class in virtually every sport.
It means those annual heated battles for the Lady Mounties and Lady Eagles remain.
“We keep our rivalries and we keep our two qualifiers (from District 6),” P-O softball coach Jim Gonder said. “That’s a big deal. It’s very competitive, and to get to the finals we have to go through good teams.”
And then there’s Bellefonte, often in the same classes for playoffs with Huntingdon, Hollidaysburg and Johnstown, guaranteeing long bus rides come playoff time — just like it is now.
“It really doesn’t make a difference at all because everybody moved up in classification,” Bellefonte Athletic Director Deb Moore said. “I don’t think the teams change too much.
In addition to the sports mentioned earlier, soccer and volleyball expanded from three classes to four.
For the PIAA, it was a matter of giving more teams a chance.
The changes tighten up the disparity within all but the biggest of classes, leveling the playing fields.
“I think it brings more parity,” said Penns Valley Athletic Director Nate Althouse, whose teams are among the smallest in their class in many sports. “That’s more important in football. It’s never going to be a perfect system. There’s always going to be the one school that’s going to be the smallest in the class, but it narrows the distance from the smallest school to the largest school.”
The changes also have opened routes to the PIAA tournaments a little more.
In volleyball, which now has four classes and thus four champions, two teams from District 6 will get spots in the Class 2A state bracket instead of the one berth of the past.
“At the end of the day, it gives more kids a chance to play for a championship,” BEA volleyball coach Larry Campbell said. “That’s a positive in a lot of ways.”
The additions also alter the championship schedules a little.
The PIAA baseball and softball finals, held every year on the Penn State campus, have in the past seen four games on each side squeezed into one day – weather permitting. Now they have to be broken up over two days. Basketball, with all the classes for boys and girls combining to be played in one spot, will have 12 total games instead of the previous eight – and contests now spread over three days instead of two.
Still up for discussion in the not-too-distant future, the PIAA is discussing adding a class to track and field.
With the changes, District 6 also is toying with the formats for this fall’s football playoffs.
Four of the six class brackets are settled. In Class 6A, State College, Altoona and Mifflin County will be competing for two spots. The winner will head into a game against a District 8 team (Pittsburgh city schools) the next week. The format also will be used in Class 5A.
A four-team playoff will be used in Class 4A, and an eight-team bracket will be used in Class 2A.
Class 3A, which has 10 teams, has scenarios involving both six teams, with byes for the top two, and eight teams. Class A, which has 19 teams in District 6, also has a number of scenarios using either 12 or 16 teams.
Those playoff formats will be determined in September.
Regardless, at the end of each will be six District 6 champions instead of four, six trophies raised and six teams that will get to play into November in the chase for a state championship.
In all those sports that added classes, it means more schools and student athletes get to win the last game of their season.
“It’s not diluting,” Althouse said. “There’s going to be more champions, more schools competing for championships. Because the numbers are closer, you’re going to be competing against like-size schools.”