Sports Czar Wants to Change Kansas Classifications

I’ve been thinking a lot about how some things could change in the world of sports. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how we can change at the local level. There’s a lot of things I’d like to see done differently. Some might work out for the better. Others, well, there’s probably a reason they’re done the way they’re done now.

So, I’ve decided to be the sports czar for a while. I could have been the governor, president or emperor. But czar just sounded better. I’ll have more changes over the next few weeks, but let’s start here.

1. Change the classification system in the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

Between my high school days at Marysville High School (4A at the time), covering area teams around Hays (many 1A, 2A and 3A rural schools in Northwest Kansas), covering TMP-Marian (3A parochial school in Hays), and covering Salina Central and Salina South in Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division I (5A and 6A schools, some in urban areas), I think I have a pretty good idea of how the classifications impact schools of all shapes and sizes.

Let’s face it, the current system is broken. Eight state championships are awarded in some sports, and nine could be on the way if 3A splits, too. It’s way too many in Kansas, and it panders to the “everyone gets a trophy” crowd. There are great teams in Kansas that don’t win state championships. But, there are great teams in all levels of sports that don’t end up with the championship, too. Winning a state championship is not a right you are born with. You have to  work harder than the others you are grouped with, get a little bit of luck, and have everything fall into place.

I think Kansas needs no more than six state championships. I’m not in favor of increasing the number of schools in 5A and 6A. KSHSAA Executive Director Gary Musselman frequently cites that 60 percent (actually 61.6% of Kansas high school students attend 5A and 6A schools. It doesn’t seem right to me that 60 percent (and more if you increase the size of those classes) of students fight for two state championships in each sport and activity, while 40 percent fight for six other state championships. If anything, I’d decrease the size of 6A to 16 schools.

So, with that being said, I took all the enrollment numbers from the 2015-16 school year, as shared in the classifications posted by the KSHSAA. These are for all sports and activities other than football. I crunched the numbers, and here’s what I found. I changed the numbers of schools in 5A and 6A, and then tried to find a multiplier to base the class sizes around. I didn’t want the largest school in the class to be much more than 1.8 times larger than the smallest school. This means classes don’t have hard numbers they’re trying to hit.

Case Study 1: 6A to 16 schools, 5A at 32 schools

I like the idea of reducing 6A to 16 schools, while keeping 5A at 32 schools. In this case, 6A has a spread where the largest school (Wichita East, 2292) is 1.3 times larger than the smallest school (Shawnee Mission East, 1726). In 5A, the spread is at 1.7 times between the largest of Junction City at 1699 and the smallest two of Salina South at 1035 and Salina Central at 1023. 4A would contain 39 schools before cutting off with a multiplier of 1.83, ranging from Kansas City-Schlagle at 973 at the top to Abilene at 533 at the bottom. 3A would have 32 schools going from Chanute at 513 to Smoky Valley at 284 with a 1.81 multiplier. 2A would have 75 schools going from Goodland at 279 to Hillsboro at 150 with a 1.86 multiplier. Southeast of Saline would fall in 2A. 1A would have the remaining 158 schools starting with Horton at 147, and the class would contain both Ell-Saline and Sacred Heart.

Thoughts: While I like a 16 school Class 6A, which does contain 22 percent of the state’s high school students, it might not be enough. There is good competitive balance in 2A through 6A, but 1A is just too big of a gulf with the largest school at 147, and the smallest school to compete on its own in basketball being Palco at 29. There would have to be a split, resulting in seven championships.

Case Study 2: 6A to 24 schools, 5A at 32 schools

While I prefer the idea of 16 schools in 6A, maybe 24 is a nice compromise between the current system and what I want. I’ll keep 5A at 32 schools, and then try to cap the other classes at roughly a 1.8 multiplier from the bottom to the top.

6A now drops the bottom to Shawnee Mission North at 1560 students at the bottom, leaving a spread of 1.5. 6A would then contain 31 percent of the high school students in Kansas. 5A would range from Blue Valley North at the top with 1529 students to Pittsburg at 886, leaving a spread of 1.73. 4A would have 37 schools and runs from St. James at 861 students to Wellington at 469 with a spread of 1.84. 3A would have 39 schools going from Atchison at 452 students to Royal Valley at 259 students with a spread of 1.75. 2A would contain 76 schools and range from Douglass at 250 students to Sublette at 136 students with a spread of 1.84. 1A would contain 144 schools. Ell-Saline would be the only school in Saline County to change classes, going from 1A to 2A.

Thoughts: A 76-school 2A and 144 in 1A still seems large, but even at that, we’re talking about 10 percent of the total Kansas high school student population in 2A, and eight percent in 1A. It would still be likely 1A would need to split, and still have seven classes. Not ideal, but it is better than the 6A 16-school model.

Case Study 3: 6A and 5A stay at 32 schools

This time, I keep 6A and 5A where they’re at, but implement the same principles in coming up with what schools fall in the other classes: the biggest school is roughly no more than 1.8 times larger than the smallest school in the class.

6A’s smallest school is Kansas City-Wyandotte at 1411, giving the class a spread of 1.6, but it contains 39 percent of the state’s student population. 5A would range from Maize at 1380 to Maize South at 787 (nice symmetry, huh?) with a spread at 1.76 and 23 percent of the state’s students. 4A starts with Kansas City-Sumner at 773, and includes 31 schools. The cutoff is set at Andale at 424 students, making the spread 1.82 for the class. 3A is then bumped to 50 schools, starting with Baldwin at 416 and going to Caney Valley at 230 with a spread at 1.81. 2A goes from Riverton at 229 to Herington at 125. The class contains 69 schools and has a spread of 1.83. 1A has 135 schools, starting with Plainville at 124. Sacred Heart would move to 2A in this set up.

Thoughts: 69 schools in 2A is manageable, and isn’t much worse than the current 64 school set up. 1A will always be an issue when working from the top, and the class probably has the biggest argument for playing for two championships. This might be the best of the models so far, as it provides some competitive balance throughout the classes.

Case Study 4: Count from the bottom up

I’ve heard this one thrown around from time to time in the classification debate, so I thought I’d check it out. One problem is several smaller 1A schools don’t participate in basketball on their own, and only compete in track and field on their own. I tried to do my best to weed some of these schools out. I thought it was only fair to put all schools under 70 students in 1A, between 70 and 130 in 2A, 130 to 250 in 3A, 250 to 500 in 4A, 500 to 1000 in 5A, and the rest in 6A. The breaks weren’t bad for the smaller classes. 51 schools in 1A, 82 in 2A (but doable since the competitive balance should be good), 79 in 3A (again large, but overall student population in the state is small), and 43 in 4A. 5A isn’t a bad classification as far as the spread from small to large goes, with a 1.9 differential from Chanute at 513 to KC-Schlagle at 973. But 6A proves problematic, with Salina Central at 1023 at the small end to Wichita East with 2292, a spread of 2.24. The class would also account for 52 percent of Kansas high school students. A 24/24 split would seem feasible and necessary.

Sports Czar Ruling: Seven class system, with 24 at the top, then the next 32, then with a split based on a multiplier from the smallest school to the largest school.

There needs to be at least two championships available at the top, but I recognize the need for a split in the smallest of schools as well.

While I think six classes are ideal, there is such a differential from the top to the bottom in Kansas that seven might be ideal. If you count from the top, a split of 1A seems necessary. If you go from the bottom, it’s only fair to split up 6A and make a 7A. Two championships for 52 percent of the high school population doesn’t seem great, but these schools also don’t complain too much about that.

The other conclusion is there is no easy answer. It’s up to the member schools of the KSHSAA to adopt a new system. KSHSAA has been hearing reports from a group studying the classification system, and could receive a recommendation for change soon. It’s not an easy task and I commend them for their work.

It is time to stop considering classifications with a hard and fasts number of schools, and find competitive balance that is in the best interest of the students.