By Tom Robinson, NEPABasketball.com
WILKES-BARRE – From their vantage points at the southern end of the conference, Hazleton Area girls coach Joe Gavio and MMI Prep boys coach Joe Flanagan have been telling their Wyoming Valley rivals that they have been missing something.
During the transition from league to district play each year, the top teams from all divisions of the Schuylkill League head to iconic Martz Hall in Pottsville to sort out a league champion.
The Wyoming Valley Conference will step into the playoff world this winter with four-team playoffs on each side. Reaction from conference coaches is mixed about the format that will feature three division champions and a wild-card based on the playoff ratings formula used for districts.
The comments at the boys and girls Media Days in Wilkes-Barre in December reflected some of the issues that created the variation in opinions.
Holy Redeemer coach Paul Guido, for one, is interested to see what all the fuss is about.
“I am looking forward to the postseason conference tournament,” Guido said during Media Day at Patte’s Sports Bar, which sometimes serves the dual purpose of giving coaches the chance to roast each other. “I’m looking forward to it, even if we’re not in it, just so at all those meetings Joe (Flanagan) will stop telling us about how he went to Martz Hall and they had 77,000 people there.”
For the girls coaches and media, who had not heard his opinion on the subject before, Gavio let it be known that he is excited about the development.
“The overall championship, I think should be a lot of fun,” Gavio said during the event at Norm’s Pizza. “When we’re not playing at that time of year, I’m down in the Schuylkill League watching games. I’m a gym rat.”
To make time for the league playoffs, the regular-season schedule had to finish a week earlier and still have enough room to accommodate the postponements that weather likely will force.
With the conference already playing two games prior to Christmas, the new schedule wound up included several three-game weeks that could expand to four games with postponements, something that caused concerns for many coaches and others close to the team.
“Those three games a week – I hate them,” Crestwood coach Ed Stepanski said. “My wife hates them.”
Stepanski summarized a situation that others raised questions about.
“Three games in one week is tough,” he said. “This compressing of the schedule, I’m not a fan of.
“We’re plagued right now by injury and by sickness. We have a lot of girls on the bench, not suiting up right now.
“It’s hard to stay healthy. You can’t recover and work on the next game.”
The conference is now in the third year of a much-maligned scheduling format where Division 2 teams play everyone in the WVC once while Division 1 and Division 3 teams have a different emphasis, meeting all of their division rivals in a home-and-home so that they play 10 divisional and 6 non-divisional games.
“It’s a little strange that they decided to do it after realignment,” Berwick girls coach Bill Phillips said. “We have a condensed scheduled and quite a few weeks where we play three games in a week.
“Our conference is interesting in that we have three divisions and there’s a 4A team in each division. That’s kind of strange.”
Come WVC playoff times, teams across all six Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association enrollment classifications will have the chance to be pursuing the same prize.
“I’m excited about the conference tournament,” Crestwood boys coach Mark Atherton said. “We’ll see how it works out.
“It does give us some Saturday games – maybe a little too many, but hopefully it’s something that works out and maybe something we can build upon.”
Nanticoke boys coach John Beggs, who is getting used to facing every other team in the conference while others in Division 2 still detest it, is keeping an open mind.
“The crossover games; I didn’t know how I would feel about that three years ago, but I actually like it,” said Beggs, who faces a conference schedule with 5 games against his division opponents and 12 against everyone else. “All three divisions are very competitive and I like the opportunity to play against all teams throughout.
“We see everybody.”
With the conference playoffs, the best teams from Division 1 and Division 3 will expand the number of opponents they could face.
OPINION: NEPABasketball.com's John Bucci offers his opinions on the new WVC basketball playoffs. http://www.nepabasketball.com/2018-19/BucciColumn5.