The Virginia High School League’s decision in September to alter its classification structure will provide plenty of benefits down the line.
Placing emphasis on current enrollment figures in the process of expanding from three groups (A, AA, AAA) to six divisions (1A thru 6A) invites more equality at the playoff level, as teams no longer will have to worry about competing for state titles against schools with significantly larger student bodies. Most sports will follow the football model by crowning six state champions every year, and we all know that more trophies means more smiling faces at season’s end.
The problem with the impending changes has nothing to do with the good intentions behind them. After all, fairness of competition is the very purpose of classification in the first place. The issue polarizing athletic directors across the commonwealth is the fact that the VHSL Executive Committee has given them precious little time to implement the new structure; moreover, the committee has offered even less direction for just how to go about setting up the new structure in the first place.
The committee voted 23-3 on Sept. 19 in favor of instituting the re-organization by the time the 2013-14 school year rolls around. In other words, school officials have been tasked with overhauling the three-tiered structure — a 42-year-old setup that currently includes 315 schools — in less than a year’s time. What’s more, they’ve been given few answers to questions concerning the multitude of logistical issues that accompany such sweeping change, a stiff arm that has heads spinning in nearly every corner of the state.
Such hasty policy-making was enabled by the VHSL’s decision to present its proposal as emergency legislation, which sped up the voting process to more efficiently bring about a final verdict. With several schools calling for immediate change in recent years, the VHSL decided to bypass the drawn-out process of standard legislation in favor of getting everything done by the time the next school year arrives.
Even with myriad concerns coming from several committee members, leaders of September’s meeting spent less than five minutes discussing the technical issues that come with a change of infrastructure. All of Northern Region committee representative David Tremaine’s questions — including matters ranging from travel and equipment costs to calendar concerns and general district questions — were ignored.
Going after an end goal without considering the steps needed to achieve that goal doesn’t make much sense. Imagine a general contractor approving an architect’s design to re-construct a shopping center without first considering a budget estimate or the costs of materials, equipment and labor. Better to leave those trivialities for the subcontractors to decide, since they’re the ones doing all the work, right?
Or, if you’re still riding the spirit of election season, imagine a president deciding to revamp the country’s tax code without first considering the ramifications such a sweeping change would entail.
With so little time given to execute so many technical issues, it’s no wonder the vast majority of schools from the Northern, Central and Eastern Regions are opposed to the changes ushered by September’s emergency legislation. Reclassification is geared primarily toward helping schools from Groups A, AA and the lower rungs of AAA, where teams drawing from small student bodies often struggle against bigger schools at the playoff level. Representatives of big schools from the Northern Region support the notion of a more level playing field, but why would they want to needlessly rush a major overhaul that puts their own concerns on the back-burner?
“I’m not frustrated with the overall proposal or what it is,” said Bill Curran, director of Student Activities and Athletics for Fairfax County Public Schools. “What I am very frustrated with is the process they used. The process was intended to shut out the Triple A, the Northern Region and the Eastern Region.”
A coalition of Group AAA schools put forth a motion to rescind the executive committee’s emergency legislation last month, but the attempt failed in a 189-111 vote that supported the legislation.
According to VHSL Executive Director Ken Tilley, much progress already has been made in the form of meeting dates and sites, committee assignments, policy changes and financial matters. Tilley admits that plenty of work lies ahead, but he remains confident that everything is on track for next year’s changes to go into effect.
“A strong majority of the schools felt that we could determine what needs to be determined in the time that we have, and that there was no reason to delay this anymore,” Tilley said.
In a phone interview with the Fairfax Times, Tilley went on to cite a particular Group A regional football playoff format as a sign of a smooth transition ahead, saying that area’s successful use of a new format is a harbinger of good things to come at the playoff level across the board next year. That may be so, but Tilley’s failure to mention the complicated logistical changes needed to lay the foundation for such a playoff system across the state shows his desire to put the cart before the horse.
If all goes according to plan, Northern Region schools like Jefferson, Lee and Marshall will enjoy the competitive benefits of moving down to a conference of like-sized schools. Bigger area schools, meanwhile, won’t be bothered by the fact that they still can compete against district rivals during the regular season. But why not take an extra year to sort out the legitimate technical concerns expressed by athletic directors across the state?
Tilley calls this fall’s legislation the most important made by the VHSL since 1970. With so much work ahead, overwhelmed athletic directors have stopped to wonder why they’re in such a hurry.