By BRENT MAYDOCK
TOPEKA — It’s been the hot-button issue across Kansas for years, at least when it comes to high school athletics in the state — classifications.
Technically, the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s member schools are divided into six classifications, 1A through 6A. But with Class 1A splitting to two divisions in 2010 and Class 4A following suit in 2013, the number of state championships awarded in football, basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball grew.
The question became when would it stop and was the current format the best option for the state.
“In my former job as (USD 259) district athletic director, I was on a board of peers, the (KSHSAA) executive board, the KIAAA — it came up all the time,” said Bill Faflick, assistant superintendant of the Wichita public schools. “You hear it again and again.”
On Wednesday at the KSHSAA’s fall Board of Directors meeting, an alternative was laid out. A pair of proposals — one for football and one for all other activities — was presented by Faflick and Mike Kastle, former superintendant at Southern Coffey County and current commissioner of the CNC and Three Rivers League, on behalf of a 13-person committee which has spent the past 13 months diligently examining the state’s current classification model and exploring new options.
In his opening comments, Faflick told the board of directors, “Make no mistake about it, this was not an easy assignment. If it was, we wouldn’t be here in the first place.”
The year-plus of work produced a model Faflick, Kastle and their colleagues hope will be a satisfactory solution.
“It is a big challenge, but it’s one of those things that if you have a healthy association, you look at everything you do,” Faflick said. “This is a topic that came up again and again and again. If we go with this proposal, in a few years we’ll evaluate it and test it out, see how it works and there will be folks that want to change it.
“No matter what we do, some people are going to be happy and some are going to be frustrated. Some school or activity will feel like it’s a challenge and others will feel like it’s a huge improvement. Finding that balance is what our committee really tried to do, taking into consideration all activities and being fair to the student-athletes, the schools and to the protocol that will lead to true champions determined in a fair and equitable manner.”
The proposals presented are as follows:
The state would be divided into six classes for 11-man football, with 6A, 5A and 4A consisting of 32 teams, 3A and 2A consisting of 48 teams and 1A of the remaining 11-man schools — a return of 1A to football for the first time since 1984. Eight-man would still be divided into two classes, each roughly containing 50 teams.
Faflick said early in the process the committee opted that treating football separately from the other activities would be the right way to approach it, following the current model. Classifications would still be determined on a two-year cycle based on enrollment in the ninth, 10th and 11th grades.
“Football was unique already and maybe it needed to stay that way,” he said.
The shrinking of 3A from 64 to 48 teams also would alleviate the biggest issue facing those programs currently in which teams which qualify for the playoffs in 3A must play three playoff games in 10 days. Eight-man football currently has the same issue and to prevent that, the proposal would move the eight-man championship games to the same weekend as the 11-man games.
The state would divide into six classes with 6A, 5A and 4A consisting of 36 schools, 3A and 2A consisting of 64 schools and 1A consisting of the remaining schools (approximately 117). There would no longer be divisions in 4A or 1A and 1A would return to its previous format of conducting regionals in volleyball and basketball with the top-two teams from each regional advancing to opposite sub-states.
The dissolution of divisions in 1A could be a source of opposition, but Kastle — who has been an administrator at that level — believed it was in the best interest of the class.
“Some will say, ‘Well it’s not good for me,’ and others will say we need to do it,” Kastle said. “But at some of our (1A) state tournaments, we’ve had some really bad records — teams that show up with three wins. That doesn’t look good.”
With several of the classes no longer divisible by eight, determining state-championship qualifiers will be the biggest adjustment. Sports like baseball and softball would be divided into East/West halves of 18 teams each in 6A, 5A and 4A with four regionals formed from each half. In basketball, those classes would contain four regions of nine teams each with sub-states seeded within those regions.
The committee, which also included Olathe’s Tim Brady, Kansas City’s Charlotte Davis, Cimarron’s David Ediger, Emporia’s Britton Hart, Miege’s Mike Hubka, Smith Center’s Greg Koelsch, Clearwater’s Bob Mellen, Cheney’s Greg Rosenhagen, Republic County’s Alan Sheets, McPherson’s Carol Swenson and Syracuse’s Paul Zuzelski, began the process of addressing classifications in June 2015. Poring over a multitude of data, they developed 45 different models for re-classification before arriving at the one which will be proposed at the spring board of directors meeting in late April.
The model presented Wednesday still could undergo some tweaking based on feedback from across the state.
The proposals will be taken to the administrator and board of education regional meetings to be held in October where input will be given about the pros and cons of the proposal. The committee will then finalize the proposals next spring with the final model to be voted on in April.
If approved, the new classification model would be implemented for the 2018-19 school year.
“Every school, every class is going to take a look and say, ‘What does this do to me,’” Kastle said. “But how many times did we say today, ‘Don’t let this be just about you.’ I hope everyone can look at the big picture because the big picture is, this is what we feel is best for the state of Kansas.”
“The message has to be this is not a single issue decision,” he said. “This is a complex decision that impacts every school in Kansas and all of our kids and their activities. When we vote in an election, we sometimes try to boil it down to what’s the stance on a particular agenda item you have.
“We can’t do that. We can’t just be about what’s best for 6A, what’s best for cross country or what’s best for debate? It has to be what’s best for the KSHSAA’s member schools as a whole and that’s hard to grasp.
“If people will take the time to really study some of the detail that’s available and realize it’s a big-picture decision, I think it has a really good chance. But if the knee-jerk reaction is, ‘Well, it’s not good for us in football or something else,’ and it comes down to a single item I think we’re in trouble. I hope we don’t go that way.”
The Topeka Capital’s high school sports website is prepzone.com.