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Bill Oram: Move to 6 classifications dilutes state titles

Published March 31, 2012 7:11 pm

Prep football • UHSAA board makes a mistake in capitulating to request of a few 3A programs.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Looking for the nicest group of men and women in the state? Try the Utah High School Activities Association's board of trustees. If you have a request, those folks will do their best to accommodate it.

Collectively, they're like a shopping mall Santa Claus, but with actual power.

Which is how we ended up here, on the fast track to six classifications for 101 high school football teams, starting in 2013. A pocketful of Class 3A school administrators and coaches successfully pleaded to play schools more like them, as the class has been dominated by urban schools for years.

So schools such as Delta, Juab and Millard are now happy, and Class 5A and 4A representatives are mostly indifferent. But this decision matters, and may be a mistake. Among the reasons was this from Bingham coach Dave Peck.

"Some of those [classifications] have only 12 schools," he said last week. "That's more like a region championship than a state title."

True, especially when you consider Timpview had to be better than seven teams just to win Region 8 last season.

The move caught the eye of RivalsHigh columnist Dallas Jackson, one of the leading experts on high school football in the country. He criticized the added classification and pointed out that 29 schools — nearly 30 percent of all the teams in Utah — have played for the five state championships over the past five seasons.

The spirit of high school athletics is not to put everyone in a position to win or even to be competitive. Remember, "it's how you play the game"? That trope suddenly doesn't seem so important.

Ultimately, a championship doesn't mean as much if teams play only others like themselves. That's why Butler reaching the NCAA men's basketball championship game in consecutive years resonated so deeply. After all, there wouldn't have been "Hoosiers" if Hickory didn't get to play that team from South Bend.

It should take something special to achieve a state championship — and a sweeping act of policy doesn't qualify.

At the root of the problem here is the realignment structure the UHSAA approved in 2010. Schools will realign every two years based on current enrollment numbers. This was done to ensure that fluctuations could be addressed quickly. Growing schools wouldn't be held down and shrinking schools wouldn't be forced to compete against the heavyweights.

Instead, the board of trustees seems content to use the two-year clause to create wholesale changes that don't truly benefit anyone — save for the board of trustees, which constantly tries to deflect criticism from all directions.

It's a tough job and the UHSAA needs to be lauded for its creativity and ambition. But in 2013 we'll have 6A in football, and the board is already investigating the merit of adding the extra classification in all sports in 2015.

Two years is not enough time to build rivalries, nor to establish the sense of community that high school sports demands. I'm not sure it's even enough time for drivers to learn the bus routes.

It's all enough to make me long for the days of two classes — A and B. Who knows? Maybe that's what Santa will bring me next year.

boram@sltrib.com

Twitter: @oramb