Should the PIAA have reclassified?
Debuting our new Point/Counterpoint series, where Pat and Andrew debate a hot topic leading up to the 2016-17 high school season. We begin with a discussion of the PIAA's vote last fall to reclassify. You make the call: good move or bad?
Andrew: Let's lead off with the presumed unpopular opinion here: Reclassification was a positive and long overdue step for the PIAA. More than 30 states operate with at least five classes, a club Pennsylvania, the sixth-most populous state by 2014 census estimates, has at last joined. Our state boasts more football schools than Florida and Illinois, which both have eight classes. Six is a good start. Well done, PIAA.
Pat: Admittedly, there was some need to restructure the classifications for football, but I think expanding to five would have better than six. I'm not a fan of watering down competition, and I think that ends up being an unintended consequence here.
For example, a grand total of five schools fall into Class A in District 3, and Class AA is made up of just seven. That's just not good, in my opinion. Yes, it's nice that more kids will get to face an appropriate level of competition, but I'm not excited about having six different district champions in football. It's not a birthright to get to play for a championship, and I think it means more when you have to fight through tough competition.
Andrew: This goes beyond District 3, though, where every school now belongs in far more sensibly determined classes. But keeping it close to home, let’s think about Cedar Crest and Lebanon football now in 5A. Falcon faithful have long bemoaned how their school enrollment barely qualified for Class AAAA, and we saw the ramifications of that. They’ve made two district football tournaments since 1999. Now that should be fixed, and same goes for other schools in similar circumstances who never had a chance in the old system. Systematically denying kids any shot at a title, instead of awarding two more, is the real crime.
Pat: No problem here with schools being on a more level playing field enrollment-wise. And being away from the perennial powerhouses like Cumberland Valley, Central Dauphin, Wilson, etc. will be good for Cedar Crest and Lebanon in terms of competing for a district playoff spot. But I still don't see how lessening the degree of difficulty helps either program in the long run. Yeah, you might get more kids out for football in the short term, which would help the overall health of both programs, but can that be sustained down the road? We'll see.
Andrew: Yes, we shall. Of course, this does go beyond football and those two schools. Boys and girls basketball have gone to six classes, and honestly that’s an upgrade from this view, too. Annville-Cleona has moved to 3A, far removed from schools with enrollment numbers in the double-digits they may have had to play a year ago as an AA school. Elco and Northern Lebanon are both 4A, slotted with the schools they more appropriately belong alongside. Sure, there will have to be more travel and championships come winter. But isn’t that worth it for a level playing field?
Pat: Time will tell. Maybe I'll grow to like it, maybe not. Honestly, until we go through it for a season or two it's hard to judge. But for now I'll go back to my original argument that I'm not in favor of watering down competition, which I think the move to six classifications does. Also, get off my lawn. Haha.
Andrew: Haha, well you got it! I’ll take my leave on this thought: Last spring, the Elco baseball team pieced together the program’s best season in a decade and then lost its district tournament opener at Twin Valley to close the books on 2016. Moving forward, Elco, a 4A program, will never, ever meet the other Raiders in the postseason again, as Twin Valley is now a 5A school. How far could Elco have gone without that unfortunate trip? Who knows. They only upset the reigning Class AAAA District 3 champion and top AAAA seed, Hempfield, in the L-L tournament roughly a week earlier. But a systematic flaw then set up a razor thin margin for error in districts that no team should have to overcome. And thankfully, not Elco nor any other team will have to ever again.
Pat: That's true for this past season, but it doesn't guarantee similar scenarios in the future. Although there are certainly programs in all sports that are powerhouses year after year, success for most high school sports programs is cyclical in nature. You can have a great run for four or five years, then the talent drops off for a few years before rising again.
There are no guarantees, and it's as much about timing as talent sometimes, no matter what the playoff system is.