By Matt Gelb
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
After a year experimenting with a condensed playoff format, the Catholic League will expand it this time around in the name of fairness.
In the first season as a part of the PIAA, the Catholic League played an eight-team league tournament last year, with six teams advancing from the Red Division and two from the Blue.
This year, 12 teams will make the tournament — six from each division. Play begins Monday.
“The new format rewards strength of schedule,” said George Todt, the Archbishop Ryan coach and league’s boys’ soccer chairman. “Everyone is getting a shot, but we want to have the best teams matching up in the semifinals.”
Four teams will receive first-round byes: the top three in the Red Division and the No. 1 squad from the Blue.
Archbishop Wood, en route to an undefeated season, has already locked up the Blue bye. Entering yesterday’s play, Father Judge, La Salle and North Catholic were the top three seeds in the Red, but St. Joseph’s Prep trailed North Catholic by just two points.
The Red Division has more strong teams — there is no debating that, Todt said — and that’s why the byes are skewed in its favor. Wood played two cross-divisional games. It beat Roman Catholic, the sixth-place team in the Red, and lost to Ryan, the Red’s fifth-place team.
In its 13 Blue wins, Wood has outscored its opponents by 72-2.
But last year, when the playoff format allowed only two Blue teams to play as opposed to six Red teams, Todt said, the coaches and athletic directors were forced to make things fairer.
“When it was 6-2, people couldn’t handle that format,” Todt said.
The tournament will be played over eight days. Before the league joined the PIAA, it was a three-week tournament. But with the District 12 championship game scheduled for Nov. 5 and the state playoffs shortly after that, the schedule must be compacted.
Whichever team advances will look to make history for District 12.
Last year, after winning the Catholic League and District 12 titles, North Catholic lost to Neshaminy, 2-0, in the first round of the state playoffs. The city’s other representative, George Washington, fell to the eventual state champion, Downingtown West, by 6-0, also in the first round.