Kragthorpe: Sixth class devalues state titles for all winners
Somewhere between the potato salad prepared by the coach's mother and the cherry cheesecake baked by the assistant coach's wife, Emery's baseball barbecue in May gave me greater appreciation for a state championship's value to a community.
So in saying the Utah High School Activities Association's move to a sixth classification in football diminishes the meaning of state titles, I'm pledging not to spoil the fun for the winners in the shrunken 2A, 3A and 3AA classes. The players, coaches and everyone involved with those accomplishments will celebrate, and they should.
Some unintended consequences definitely are in play here, however. By awarding trophies in those classes with no more than 14 members, UHSAA administrators will have made state championships less significant at every level, including 4A and 5A, where twice as many schools compete.
It's healthy that schools such as Juab, Morgan and Grantsville will be more competitive, and I'm all for an even playing field. But the field should be 100 yards long, right? Having so few schools in these classes is the equivalent of Arena Football. It's just not the same game as others are playing.
I'm giving an exemption to 1A football, even with only nine contestants. In Utah, 1A always has occupied its own niche with those tiny schools that manage to field football teams, and perpetuating the sport at that level is a good thing.
Administrators have gone too far is dividing another 40 schools into three classes, though. They've done a very nice job of realigning the regions at all levels in the interest of competition, geography and rivalries. But having 12, 14 and 14 schools comprise entire state classes? That's overdoing it.
Think about this: The Big Ten Conference soon will have more members than Class 3A.
Among the side effects is All-State teams, a longstanding tradition. I'm not in charge, but I certainly wonder how The Tribune can justify naming those teams in every class, as the newspaper has done forever. To keep doing so would devalue the honor for athletes in 4A and 5A, who have to stand out twice as much to earn the same recognition.
This realignment reminds me of the iconic label for a stage of Indiana high school playoffs: Semi-State, determining the finalists. Semi-State is exactly what the 2A, 3A and 3AA football championship games will feel like to me.
My solution? The winners of the 3A and 3AA brackets and the 1A and 2A divisions should meet to decide true state titles. It's obviously too late for this season, and awarding only four trophies would require some bold decision-making by UHSAA administrators once they've established a precedent of handing out six of them.
But how much fun, and how much more meaningful, would it be to have one more round of playoffs? Sure, the 3AA and 2A teams would be favored, but the matchups would be intriguing and the potential for upsets would exist. The losers still would be division champions, just like in the Pac-12.
A compromise would be to arrange for those schools to meet the following August in endowment games, even though the makeup of the teams would have changed. I'm for anything that would further distinguish the champions of these classes.
My whole purpose here is to have 4A and 5A football teams receive the full credit they deserve for winning state titles, with four rounds of playoffs. They simply will have done more to earn those trophies than schools at the lower levels, and they should have much greater distinction.
Having said that, I'll never underestimate what a state championship means to a smaller community. I'm even promising to visit the 3A winner's town the week after the title game in November to gauge the impact of the football team and its achievement.
Forgive me for hoping that somehow, that's Emery. The potato salad and cheesecake were that good.