A couple weeks ago, the Wyoming High School Activities Association set new cutoffs for the number of teams in each football classification.
The biggest changes come in the small-school ranks, where Class 2A will go from 16 to 14 teams and where a 14-school cutoff line was established in Class 1A to separate 11-man and six-man squads.
The WHSAA’s decision has some ramifications worth deeper consideration:
Scheduling: With an anticipated 14 schools in 2A and Class 1A 11-man (although 1A might be different, and we’ll get to that in a second), the schools in those classifications will have the chance to have one more nonconference game before diving into a six-game conference schedule. This change highlights two important points: the chance for more flexibility in nonconference scheduling (which may reduce total travel for schools) and the ability to have a balanced conference schedule with three home games and three road games.
The WHSAA, which makes all the varsity football schedules statewide, has not had a lot of flexibility in scheduling because of the large, eight-team conferences in 2A and 1A 11-man the past few years. The flexibility afforded by smaller conferences — even if that flexibility is only one additional nonconference game — should help the WHSAA keep some schools closer to home during the first two weeks of the season.
But one of the problems with this option is that it doesn’t account for schools opting up, and two 11-man programs that, if the cutlines existed now, would be classified as six-man would likely do just that, thereby eliminating a week of nonconference flexibility for the 1A 11-man classification.
Opting up/down: With the 1A cutline established where it is — the 14 largest 1A schools as 11-man, the remainder as six-man — at least four schools will probably have tough decisions to make.
Although the final classifications won’t be set until enrollment numbers are collected after this school year, if the enrollments remain consistent from the last reclassification cycle in 2011, two current 11-man schools — Burlington and Cokeville — would be classified as six-man. Cokeville has a long history of opting up in situations like this and would likely be the first in line to move to 11-man; Burlington could follow. And even if Burlington’s enrollment number classifies it as an 11-man school, the program that was right above the Huskies in enrollment in 2011 — Upton — has been adamant about salvaging its 11-man program and avoiding six-man at all costs.
Conversely, two schools that opted down to six-man for the 2013 season — Wyoming Indian and Saratoga — will likely fall into the 11-man classification for 2014. Those schools will have a tough choice to make: stay in six-man and be ineligible for the playoffs, or go back to 11-man after one year in six-man. Either way, the coaches, administrators and players face a difficult conundrum if the enrollment numbers stand up, as they most certainly will for the Chiefs and probably will for Saratoga, especially with the Panthers’ co-op with Encampment in effect.
Normative Services, which will move from 11-man to six-man in 2013, has a stable and low enrollment that should place the Wolves safely in the six-man ranks for years to come.
The Upton-Sundance co-op: Upton and Sundance are entering the second season of their temporary co-op in 2013. If the Patriots want to continue in 2014, though, they face an interesting situation, one that may make it easier for them to stay connected.
One of the big questions the U-S team faced in 2012 was playoff eligibility. To remain eligible, the combined enrollments of the two programs (the total Upton enrollment plus the Sundance male enrollment) had to be smaller than the smallest Class 2A school. It was, just barely, and the Patriots finished 2012 in third place in the 1A 11-man East, qualifying for the playoffs.
With the two largest 2A schools coming down to Class 1A in 2014, though, the enrollment cutoff for the two schools to reach will likely be quite a bit higher, making it easier for the two schools to stay together and remain playoff eligible if they so choose. If participation numbers for the two programs remain in the low teens apiece, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Patriots survive to 2014 and 2015.
Rock River: The Longhorns finished their first season of junior-varsity six-man football last year and are set to play another JV season in 2013. With the school still tentatively scheduled to make the jump to varsity play in 2014, the state will have an uneven number of football programs (65), making scheduling for either the 11-man or the six-man division that much more difficult depending on opt-ups or opt-downs as listed above.
Of course, if the Upton-Sundance co-op remains in tact, the state will have 64 football programs. But even with an even number, opt-ups and opt-downs could create an odd number of schools in BOTH 11-man and six-man at the 1A level, which could be a scheduling nightmare for the WHSAA.
Class 4A and Class 3A: Barring some large shifts in enrollment, Class 4A and Class 3A will remain untouched by these changes in 2014. The only potential shifts in 3A could be in nonconference scheduling, as we may see more 2A-3A interclass games now that 2A schools have an extra week of nonconference scheduling available. We will only see two such games in 2013, and they both, obviously, come in Week 1: Glenrock at Torrington and Rawlins at Kemmerer.
Who moves: This is always the biggest question in any reclassification proposal. For now, only two schools will actually switch classifications, as the smallest two schools in 2A will move to 1A. Using 2011′s ADMs, those schools would be Tongue River and Big Horn. Don’t be surprised if that’s the case: When ADMs were calculated for the last reclassification cycle in 2010, Big Horn was the smallest 2A school at about 140; Tongue River was second-smallest at 145; Moorcroft was third-smallest at 163. Either Big Horn or Tongue River would have had to have done some significant growing, or Moorcroft (or Greybull or Wright) would have had to have done some significant shrinking, to have anyone but the Rams or Eagles move. (But don’t pen the moves in just yet. ADMs are always a little quirky. No one knows where, exactly, they’ll fall until the numbers are finalized.)
The remaining moves will be based on two things: (1) enrollment, although the existing gaps between the smallest 4A/3A schools and the largest 3A/2A schools make such changes seem unlikely, and (2) any six-man to 11-man or 11-man to six-man changes, as outlined above.
Big picture: The WHSAA made some good changes with this proposal. Six-man is now stable enough to support itself — it doesn’t need the “help” of bigger programs dropping down to supplement numbers. The eight-team conferences in 2A and 1A 11-man proved unmanageable, and although seven-team conferences aren’t much better, they are an improvement and should provide some travel relief. New programs at St. Stephens and Rock River should help bolster and stabilize six-man. The proposal has enough flexibility to accommodate an Upton-Sundance co-op (or, for that matter, other co-ops that may develop).
Of course, as with any changes, questions will linger until we have a chance to see the proposal in action. Nevertheless, these changes are good, necessary steps to stability in the small-school classes.