A few weeks ago, one Division III coach suggested to GameTimePA.com that the YAIAA should use a promotion/relegation system like the one used in European soccer leagues. In those leagues, a certain amount of teams move up or down a division based on their performance the previous season. This football coach wasn't entirely serious, but his idea certainly sparked a fun discussion in the newsroom.
Brandon Stoneburg and I took to the drawing board, playing out a system in which the top two teams in every YAIAA football division dropped down a rung after the season and the top two teams in every division moved up a rung. We played it out over a few years, stopping after each one to analyze the new division breakdowns.
Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun doing this. It was interesting to see all the different divisional alignments and matchups that could come about under this system. We even kicked around an east-west split and some hybrid ideas.
But here's the biggest takeaway I came away with from that exercise: The best possible system is the one the league has in place right now. Breaking teams into divisions by school size is the only fair, measurable way to organize schools for the purpose of athletics.
I understand this coach's point about why he'd like to see something new. When one or two powerhouse teams consistently dominate a division, other coaches in that division can struggle to turn around fledgling programs. Just look at Bermudian Springs in Division III and West York in Division II.
A promotion/relegation system would give those powerhouse teams an opportunity to play in the next division up, and the bottom-dwellers could end up in a more manageable division with more comparable competition. But in the end, someone tough is always coming down from the division above. And if one of the bottom-dwellers takes advantage of the new competition, well guess what? Now it's going back up to the next division to see the exact teams it wanted off the schedule.
While playing out these scenarios created some fun matchups and often seemed to balance the competition, it also robbed us of one of the things fans love about the YAIAA: Rivalries. Certain fringe teams will bounce back and forth between divisions almost every season, breaking up the continuity of seeing the same teams duke it out for division glory every year.
And there's a big difference between the way European soccer clubs operate and the way high school football programs operate that makes this system flawed for York and Adams counties. In Europe, soccer players sign multi-year contracts and the same clubs generally remain good or bad for extended periods of time.
But in high school football, graduation can gut a team that succeeded the previous year and an elite, healthy senior class can vault a team to a new level. Teams that were good enough to be promoted one year might not be capable of performing at the same level the following year, when the schedule will also get tougher.
It's easy to look at the current division alignment and wonder if there's a better way to split teams up, but at the end of the day the league has it right: School size is the only fair way to divide teams. As coaches and players come and go, programs rapidly become more and less competitive. But the schools with a larger student pool to pull from will always hold an advantage.
The 2015 high school football is under way and no one will be promoted or relegated at the end of the season. As much as that might sound fun, we're better off sticking with the current system.