Jim King 2017

Finishing Up colun logo

The West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission has a crisis of confidence brewing and probably doesn’t even realize it.

The SSAC is finishing off work on the classifications that will rule high school athletic competition in the Mountain State for the next 4 years. It’s an exercise the commission goes through every 4 years.

The roughly 130 high schools in the state are divvied up into 3 classes — large, medium and small — so schools can compete for state championships in sports from football in the fall to tennis in the spring.

This has traditionally been solely determined by enrollment numbers, although for the next couple of years, the SSAC is going to try a novel approach for basketball that will create 4 classes that use not only enrollment, but economic and geographic factors to sort of divide the state into large urban schools, large rural (probably where Hampshire will compete), small-medium urban and small rural.

It’s the commission’s nod to the idea of competitive balance and has the decided advantage — if you’re a small rural school – of pushing the Catholic schools in the state up a class size, where they probably belong to more equitably compete with schools that can parallel their talent pools.

It’s an interesting effort and I applaud the initiative.

I just wish the commission was as scrupulous about its classification system for the rest of the sports.

When I started here as sports editor 12 years ago, the SSAC was in the middle of its 4-year cycle and had the schools in (basically) thirds. The biggest 40 schools were Class AAA. The next 40 were class AA and the rest — about 40 in football and 50 in basketball — made up Class A.

That seemed logical.

But the quadrennial reclassification in 2011 saw the state shrink Class AAA to 37, an ungainly number, with 40 in Class AA and a few more in Class A.

The 2015 reclassification, which we’re in the last year of now, took Class AAA down to 29 schools, put 45 in Class AA and the rest in Class A.

Now the new set-up to begin next year puts 32 schools in Class AAA, 37 in Class AA and the smallest 56 in Class A.

I see no consistency in the meanderings over the last decade and I don’t think schools around the state do either. Some of that comes because the SSAC has never addressed why it decided the 40 biggest schools competing needed to be 37 for 4 years, then 29 for 4 years and now 32 for 4 years.

They compound the error by drawing imaginary enrollment lines between Class AAA and Class AA. Next year it will be 800 — those above 800 enrollment are AAA and those below are AA. That benefits Fairmont Senior at 799.

See, the 800 number isn’t really the dividing line. The dividing line is about how many schools the commission wants in the top class.

Back in Missouri when I was a student who cared about such matters, the activities commission there used specific numbers as the cutoff for classes. If memory serves me, it was something like every school above 1,000 enrollment was 4A, 501-1,000 was 3A, 251-500 was 2A and 250 or under was 1A.

It didn’t matter if there were 32 or 17 or 43 schools in a class. You knew that if you were a certain size, you knew what class your school was in.

West Virginia would do well to adopt a similar model or to revert back to dividing the schools into basically equal thirds. Either system has a logic and stability to it.

Making up a new formula every 4 years hurts the integrity of the authority that we count on to fairly and impartially administer athletic competition for the state’s high schools.

P.S. As long as we’re on the subject, why draw up the classifications for a 4-year stretch? States I’m familiar with reclassify every year to account for enrollment growth (or loss).

Sure, it’s a little more work at the SSAC level, but it’s fairer on a year-in, year-out basis for the schools and the kids.

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