A legislative audit of the Utah High School Activities Association has found that splitting the state’s schools into six football classifications has resulted in higher costs for most of the 3AA and 3A programs, with some schools bearing a big brunt of the financial burden.
All of the 3AA schools saw an increase in travel and costs, while nine out of 12 3A schools did. Payson, a Utah County 3AA school grouped in a region with St. George programs, will have spent an estimated $17,739 more in the current two-year realignment cycle than in the last, with travel mileage increasing by 477 percent.
Other schools hit hard by realignment include Uintah ($8,153), Canyon View ($7,254 increase), Morgan ($4,526), and Grantsville ($4,313). Of the 14 3AA programs, 13 saw travel cost estimates rise by at least $2,000.
For those programs, the trade-off of more money and more time on the road comes for classes with closer and hopefully safer competition. The UHSAA voted to split the 3A classification in 2012 to make sure that the biggest school in each class was less than twice the size of the smallest school. It comes at a price.
“ I don’t think there’s any way around the fact that the smaller number of schools you have in a classification, the more you have to travel,” UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff said.
Cuff did contend that some of the figures were one-sided: The audit included only expenses and travel from region play, and some schools have compensated for increased costs in region by playing non-region schedules closer to home. Cuff added that Payson has been getting assistance from other schools in the 3AA South region.
Not all schools were shelling out more money for going on the road for football. Most 1A and 2A programs saw travel expense estimates, milage traveled and travel time drop by varying increments. 5A and 4A regions were not included in the report, but were typically less affected by realignment in travel.
The UHSAA plans to discuss its next realignment this year. A committee has already recommended that the state retain six classifications for football with five for all other sports.
The audit made several recommendations for the UHSAA to clarify and document its realignment and transfer appeal processes.
On realignment, the audit suggested the UHSAA develop a more concrete process for schools petitioning to move to a different classification or region. It also asked the UHSAA to calculate travel costs and use the figures when developing regions.
In the sometimes murky transfer appeals process, the UHSAA is already moving forward to accept online submissions for athletes who are looking to become eligible at different schools in the hope that it will lead to fewer appeals hearings. In the event of an appeal, the audit recommended the UHSAA should better inform parents why the transfer was originally denied, create records of appeals decisions to reference in hearings, and offer closed hearings for families disclosing sensitive information.
In a response, the UHSAA said it was working to adapt to all the recommendations. UHSAA attorney Mark Van Wagoner said the organization that several of its functions — particularly transfer hearings — had been validated by the audit.
“My impression of this was it was suggestions on how to improve the gathering, handling and displaying of certain kinds of information,” he said. “I didn’t see anything where they said we were doing it wrong. They saw our process and said it was fair.”