Written by 9:22 pm Uncategorized

Money, Not Competition, Is Why States Are Expanding High School Sports Classes

In recent years, state high school athletic associations have expanded the number of enrollment-based classes, or separated private schools from public schools in the postseason, or came up with formulas to put perennial champions up against bigger schools, all, nominally, to ensure that competition is as equal as possible.

I say nominally because while everybody would love a better shot at getting trophies for their hallway cases, the issue, as always, comes down to money. As in, expanding classes creates more playoffs teams, which means more money that a state association can collect (and share with member schools). It also tries to solve a problem, one particularly notable in football: fans staying away from championship games because the same few teams win every year.

The Alabama State High School Athletic Association on Jan. 22 became the latest prep sports governing body to divide classes, expanding from six (which had been in place since 1984) to seven. The new 7A will consist of the 32 largest schools in the state, a model established by other state associations in recent years because of the yawning enrollment and achievement gap (especially in football) between the biggest of the big, and the smallest of the big.

In Alabama, only three schools have won 6A titles since 2000: the suburban Birmingham school Hoover (eight times, including the last two), the suburban Montgomery school Prattville (four times), and the suburban Mobile school Daphne (twice). Hoover and Prattville are among the 32 schools moving up to 7A. The chances of Daphne and the 59 other schools to win a 6A title just went up significantly.

“The seven-classification system will allow more student-athletes to participate in championship events and more will experience first-hand what it means to play in some of the best venues in our state,” Lamar Brooks, AHSAA Central Board president, said in a news release. But here’s, literally, the money quote: “With the addition of an extra championship game, revenues should increase which will mean much-needed additional money for all schools through the AHSAA revenue sharing program.”

The AHSAA, like many state associations, collects a good amount of its revenue (about $6 million-plus per year) — and gets the ability to share it with member schools — based on playoff monies, including live attendance. The AHSAA, which  gives out around $1.2 million per year to its member schools, which amounts to a few thousand dollars each — n0t enough to fund an athletic department, but enough to help keep athletes from participating in one more candy-selling fundraiser.

In Alabama, football state finals attendance has been fairly consistent, at around 45,000-50,000 most years, so adding a class is about trying to expand the pool of money. But in other states, the expansion has been about trying to reverse attendance declines, with the feeling that seeing the same teams year after year is turning off fans, and perhaps turning off enthusiasm at other schools.

For example, Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association in October 2013 voted to expand its football classes from six to seven, starting in 2014. This is in part because the current 6A schools range from 1,200 to 4,600 students, and in part because only either of two suburban Tulsa schools — Union and Jenks — have won the big-school title since 1996, nine times with one beating the other. In 1999, 40,000 fans watched Union and Jenks play. In the last few years, a Union or Jenks championship, or a Union-Jenks championship, has fallen well below 20,000.

OSSAA, like Alabama, shares playoff revenue with schools, and with one more class — and two more schools in the title game — it gets a chance to ensure those totals don’t decline. The organization, before the first 7A football game is played, already has a proposal to split all sports into seven classes, with proponents noting that 87 percent of all titles in the last 16 years were won by schools in the top 16 in attendance.

Visited 2 times, 1 visit(s) today