With the Kensington Lakes Activities Association membership shrinking to 14 for the 2017-2018 school year following the departure of 10 schools, the biggest shake-up will occur next fall in football.
The remaining 14 athletic directors from the KLAA met recently to map out their divisional realignments based on an equity formula where each team’s winning percentage was calculated from the past four football seasons.
The two seven-team divisions are as follows based on those four-year performance rankings for the 2017 football season:
KLAA Black: Canton (1), Hartland (4), Livonia Stevenson (5), Brighton (8), Howell (9), Novi (12) and Salem (13).
KLAA Gold: Northville (2), Plymouth (3), Livonia Churchill (6), Grand Blanc (7), Westland John Glenn (10), Livonia Franklin (11) and Wayne Memorial (14).
“I think it’s been pretty receptive,” said Northville athletic director Bryan Masi, who oversees football in the KLAA. “There’s good balance. Instead of having one division really loaded, I think there’s good balance.”
Scheduling, however, proved to be the biggest challenge facing the athletic directors heading into the 2017 football season.
The first week is still considered an open date, which allows for a non-KLAA opponent. But two KLAA teams are scheduled to face each other in the openers including Hartland-John Glenn and Stevenson-Franklin.
In addition to playing the required six division opponents, there will be a bye week that will include a crossover game between Black and Gold teams sprinkled throughout the season. It will allow for rival district schools to continue to play each other. The ninth week will pair of teams in a crossover game determined by first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh place in the final standings from each division.
“You’re going to cross over with a team in the other division,” Masi said of the bye week. “And who we determined who plays who is a rival, such as Novi-Northville, which still has to play. After that we matched up by winning percentage. Our bye week, Novi-Northville, is week eight. The ninth week is a crossover. The only negative to that is that we play Novi in week eight and week nine if we end up similar in the standings in our divisions, then we may have to play again.”
Facing the same opponent two weeks in a row in the eighth and ninth weeks, or even in the ninth week and the first round of the MHSAA playoffs, has occurred in the past.
“When you have that crossover there is an increased chance of having a back-to-back opponent,” Northville coach Matt Ladach said. “We had it this past year with Canton (in the Kensington Conference final and the first round of the Division 1 playoffs). The year before that we played Plymouth twice within a matter of three weeks. When you have all of our teams close in geography, then you end up having a crossover game between playoff teams … I kind of hoped we would have had week nine open for us and have that crossover game in week eight, but almost all of us had a contract for week one for the KLAA because it was open.”
Travel remains a concern and there remains a discrepancy in enrollments in the new KLAA.
Grand Blanc boasts the KLAA’s biggest student body with 2,630, while Franklin now ranks as the smallest with 1,507. The two schools, now fellow members of the KLAA Gold in football only, are located 64 miles apart.
“It looked odd to see Grand Blanc in that one division with Wayne and John Glenn,” Novi coach Jeff Burnside said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but if that’s how they broke it up. My theory has always been line up whoever you’ve got in front of us and let’s play them.”
The shake-up within the KLAA came after nine schools voted to form their own league led by a group of administrators and coaches from Milford and White Lake Lakeland.
South Lyon, South Lyon East, Walled Lake Central, Walled Lake Western, Walled Lake Northern, Waterford Mott and Waterford Kettering also voted to leave the KLAA and join the new nine-team league (which has yet to be named) with Milford and Lakeland.
Pinckney, the other KLAA member school, is also leaving this fall to join the Southeastern Conference.
“I’m really disappointed that the league had to break up,” Burnside said. “I personally think the MHSAA needs to take a look at every team making the (state) playoffs. Whether we have to shorten up and go eight weeks (regular season) and go a ninth week with the playoffs . . . it’s all driven by football, at least as far as breaking apart.”
Six wins will automatically qualify teams to get into the Michigan High School Athletic Association tournament. Last season, 13 of the 24 KLAA member schools made the state football playoffs.
“Teams want to get in the playoffs,” Burnside said. “Teams that are smaller don’t want to play teams that are bigger. I understand that to a certain extent, but I think we need to do something about it. We’re breaking up a really good league. And that’s disappointing. I think we need to take a look at what’s best for everybody because it’s a shame. Some teams are afraid to play somebody good out of conference because they want to get those six wins.”
Meanwhile, the new KLAA for 2017-18 will have a distinct geographic look to it outside of football.
One division will consist of Grand Blanc, Howell, Hartland, Brighton, Novi, Northville and Stevenson, while the other will include Canton, Salem, Plymouth, Franklin, Churchill, Wayne and John Glenn.
“In every other sport our divisions are going to be pretty consistent in geographics,” Masi said. “But what we’re going to do to alleviate the travel is that we’re going to go through the conference once one time (13 dates) instead of doing a double round-robin. We’re going to do that in basketball, volleyball and soccer. At the end you may have a crossover game or I think we may still do a two- or three-game (KLAA) tournament.”
Meanwhile, the new KLAA also accepted applications through Jan. 31 from outside conference members for the 2018-19 school year.
Among the schools that reportedly expressed interest included Saline, Ann Arbor Skyline, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Ann Arbor Huron, all from the Southeastern Conference, along with Belleville (Western Wayne Athletic Conference) and Lapeer (Saginaw Valley High School Association).
“2018 will be interesting to see,” Ladach said.