The PIAA Needs to Tweak It’s Selection Process for the Dual-Meet Championships

Wrestling is a sport in which excellence is determined on the mat. It’s about toughness, hard work, and hard-nosed competition.

That’s the sport’s appeal. Individuals and teams line up across from one another and go six minutes, sometimes more, to determine who is No. 1. There is very little room left for speculation. Wrestling is a battle of will with the best competitor coming out on top.

But, there is an unfortunate exception at the high school level. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association has good intentions, but they fail to get it right with its dual-meet Team Championships.

For the PIAA, the process of determining which teams vie for a title is more about participation based on geographical location than honoring the best dual-meet teams in the state.

That is the only explanation for two of the best teams in Pennsylvania, District 11’s Liberty and Nazareth, watching from the sidelines instead of trekking east to Hershey’s Giant Center for the Class 3A portion of this week’s PIAA Team Championships.

The 20-team bracket in Class 2A and Class 3A are filled out by district tournaments. There are 10 satellite tournaments in Class 2A and eight in Class 3A, with a pre-determined number of squads from each district advancing based on the number of teams in that districts.

If you need an example as to why this procedure doesn’t work, look at District 11. Liberty, Bethlehem Catholic, Northampton, and Nazareth meet all of the qualifications that make this sport great, and yet, only two of them will have a chance at gold.

Bethlehem Catholic avenged a regular-season loss to Liberty in the District 11 finals. Liberty, who only beat Nazareth 26-24 in the semifinals after losing to them at the Virginia Duals during the season, then lost a true-second match with Northampton.

These four teams beat each other up in the regular season and in last weekend’s postseason tournament. They were all ranked in the top six the entire season and are superior to most of the current PIAA Team Championship field. Yet, they sit at home.

I’m not going to take shots at teams in other districts. That’s not the point. Besides, power can shift season to season just like any other sport.

The problem is the process. Maybe, the PIAA wants to take the path of least resistance. Maybe, it’s about participation rather than rewarding the best teams. Regardless, this isn’t the best direction for the sport.

There are those in the wrestling community who want to expand the field to 24. I’m not in favor of that practice because it could cheapen the field. So, instead, I have a better solution to the problem. The best part, it’s simple.

Chop off the No. 4 qualifier from District 1 and District 3 and devote them to at-large bids. Those spots go to the best teams in the State who don’t qualify through a stacked district tournament. Nothing else needs changed.

The only hiccup would be choosing the at-large teams. That seems a little thin, especially when PA Power Wrestling tracks results and has rankings from the time the season starts until it ends. If you don’t like that route, go with a committee made up of coaches in the know.

They will get it right.

If the best teams are Nazareth and Liberty, so be it. If it’s the No. 4 team out of another district, no problem. The same process could also be used for Class 2A, which has some question marks, as well.

It’s simple. Clean. More important, it closes a glaring hole in a system that is, obviously, damaged and broken. It takes care of a huge problem and might draw more attention and fans to Hershey for a tournament that is lacking.

Does it fix all of the issues? No. You can’t make everyone happy or make things fair in totality. And, I’m good with that.

I get that life isn’t fair, and kids need to learn that at a young age. But, the PIAA has an obligation to put its best foot forward. They owe it to the sport, and more important the kids, to strive for excellence and get it right.

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