A proposed change in New York’s high school football structure that would create a sixth enrollment classification and reshuffle local competitors has drawn mixed opinions from area coaches and administrators.
The executive committee of the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association is set to meet in Troy on Thursday to discuss and vote on a number of issues. Paramount among them is the possible addition of a “Class AAA” for the state’s largest football teams, which would also shift the enrollment ranges for each of the existing five classifications.
The purpose of the new class would be to increase parity by separating the large high schools from the very large ones, NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas said. While the consensus locally is that there is room for an additional class, the effectiveness of the current proposal, and the rationale behind each class’ size, is in question.
“I can understand the desire to move in this direction,” said Arlington Athletic Director Dave Goddard, whose school’s enrollment is around 3,000. “I get it all the time: Some of the schools now (in Class AA) that don’t have our numbers can say, ‘Why do we have to play Arlington? They’re about three times our size.’ That would still be the case for the smaller Triple-A schools.”
Classes for public schools are based on the Basic Educational Data System (BEDS) numbers, which track schools’ enrollment for each year, sans the graduating senior class. The 431 schools with football programs in New York are currently divided into five classes: AA, A, B, C and D. Class AA, the current largest, includes teams representing schools with 930 or more students. Class AAA would have a minimum of 1,100.
Within Dutchess County, only Arlington (2,392), John Jay (1,543) and Roy C. Ketcham (1,417) would qualify for the new class. There wouldn’t be much of a tangible change for those programs as they already compete mostly against the larger schools in Section 1.
But, there is a trickle-down effect, with the threshold numbers changing for each classification, and that would affect some smaller teams in the area. Based on the current BEDS numbers, Section 9 Class B teams Marlboro (479) and Red Hook (496) would jump to Class A. The minimum enrollment for Class A would drop from 570 to 455.
The change makes sense in theory, some local coaches said, but they argued that even within Class AAA, there still would be a sizable gap between the large schools and extra-large.
“Wherever the heavyweights are, they can’t cap it,” John Jay coach Tom O’Hare said. “There’s still gonna be a divide between the smaller Triple-A schools, right on the fringe, and the bigger ones. A school that’s right around 1,100 students will still have to play teams like Arlington and North Rockland.”
To that, Zayas said: “There will always be schools on the bubble. We have that now. There will always be large teams and smaller teams, no matter the class. This wouldn’t solve that, but it’s an attempt to reduce it.”
According to the proposal in Thursday’s meeting itinerary, the addition of the sixth classification and the additional playoff contests it would create, would be expected to increase revenues by $50,000.
Marlboro coach Rich Ward said he agrees that six classes are necessary, but he doesn’t understand why the change should impact classes beyond Double-A. His Iron Dukes have won four straight Class B Section 9 titles. “Football is still football,” Ward said, insisting that a move to Class A wouldn’t hinder his team.
However, Ward said, “I’d like to know how the philosophy for the (new threshold) numbers were derived. What happened to the 20-percent breakdown?”
Historically, NYSPHSAA has tried to structure the classification so that about 20 percent of its schools fall into each of the five classes. But under this proposal, Class AAA would have only 51 teams (11.8 percent) and Class C would be the most inclusive with 84 teams (19.8 percent).
“This wasn’t explained,” Ward said. “I wish there had been more of a discussion about this and the coaches had some input.”
“I think the geography of New York and the section setup makes this difficult,” Roy C. Ketcham coach Bryan Hogan said. “In some sections, there are very few large schools. One of the concerns with Triple-A, I think, is the possibility of a team having an easier road to the state tournament or even an automatic qualifier in its section.”
Hogan suggested New York consider adopting a system similar to what Connecticut has, with a division in each class of “small” and “large” schools.
A vote on the proposal was tabled at NYSPHAA’s July meeting and put off to October to allow the committee to gather more information. There is a possibility the vote could again be pushed back once more on Thursday, Goddard said. But, according to Zayas, NYSPHSAA considers its January 29 meeting “our hard deadline” for decisions affecting next fall season.
Zayas said “it’s always a possibility” the cut-off numbers could be adjusted in the proposal, but he thinks it’s unlikely “because there would be a time crunch to get that done for next year.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
Current enrollment boundaries
Class AA: 910-and-up
Class A: 480-909
Class B: 280-479
Class C: 170-279
Class D: Up-to-169
Proposed enrollment boundaries for 2016
Class AAA: 1,100-and-up
Class AA: 740-1,099
Class A: 455-739
Class B: 340-454
Class C: 225-339
Class D: Up-to-224