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Changes are coming in Franklin-Fulton

There's no doubt about it - this year, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association is getting a major facelift.

For years and years, the reclassification of Pennsylvania football has been heatedly debated. Proposals have come and gone, votes have been taken, ideas have been thought of, then shot down.

But finally, the PIAA is undergoing one of its biggest changes in history. In addition to taking football from four classes to six, the PIAA Board of Directors also voted to expand eight others sports' classification numbers. Also, boys and girls lacrosse is now two classes instead of one, but that decision was approved prior to the massive overhaul.

"We felt this was important even though it's a substantial change," said Melissa Mertz, PIAA Associate Executive Director. "We haven't had this big of a change probably since 1988, which was the year we started to have football championships. But as a staff, we're on board with it. There's more opportunity to have kids involved and make the playoffs." 

The reclassification has a long list of ramifications. From certain league divisions thinking about realignment, to a redesign of district playoffs and power rankings systems, to an attempt to schedule more appropriate non-league opponents, teams that fall under new classifications have had a lot on their plates this offseason.

"Being the first year, there's a huge learning curve for everyone," Waynesboro athletic director Eric McIlquham said. "(The current classes) are only for a two-year cycle, so however it plays out in two years, we might change classes in certain sports, or they might make more tweaks and changes." 

Small tweaks may be possible, but this type of major change has been several years in the making. 

According to Mertz, the PIAA, which governs more than 700 high schools, examined football classification systems in other similarly-sized states. In comparable states, such as Michigan and Florida, there are a minimum of eight classes of football, she said. In fact, states with only four football classes were much smaller states, such as Iowa, which has only 230 state-sanctioned schools. 

It seemed clear that something needed to be done about football, and that's when talks of expanding classification in other sports began.

"We actually have more schools in our state that sponsor baseball and softball, for instance, than schools that sponsor football," Mertz said. "Once we started to have more and more discussions, we decided that if we were going to look at football, we needed to look at all other team sports and see if those needed to be increased as well based on our numbers." 

Boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball also went from four to six classes, while boys and girls soccer and girls volleyball have moved from three to four and field hockey expanded from two classes to three.

With the increase in classification comes an increase in playoff opportunities. For the major sports, all six classes will feature 32-team brackets for PIAA playoffs. But on the district level, things have seriously changed. 

Take District 3, for example. In the 11 total sports that will change classes this year, there used to be 474 teams that qualified for district play. Under the new system, 480 teams will qualify for districts. While that number is greater, that's not the case for each individual sport. 

In fact, both football and basketball will have fewer district spots. Formerly, 44 football teams advanced to districts. Now, there are only 32 available spots. In both girls and boys basketball, the number is reduced from 60 to 58. Only a handful of sports - field hockey (2), boys soccer (2), girls volleyball (4), softball (2) and girls and boys lacrosse (6 each) - gain district playoff spots.

That's likely not the case for District 5, however. According to Southern Fulton athletic director Kent Hendershot, those district brackets are typically either a six- or eight-team format, depending on the number of schools in each classification. In most instances, if a class has fewer than 10 teams in a sport, it will be a six-team bracket; 10 or more has an eight-team bracket.

"It certainly waters down our district a little bit," Hendershot said. 

Another big issue involving playoffs is seeding those brackets. While District 5 saw a complete change - wins against a 1A school count for six points and an extra point is added for each larger classification - District's 3 power rankings remain fairly similar.

A team's weighted win percentage will still count as 55 percent of the power ranking, while the opponents' weight win percentage is the other 45 percent. The only real change is the differential in point values between classifications will go from two-tenths of a point to one-tenth. 

"If we kept it at two-tenths the whole way through, the gap would be enormous between classes," said Rod Frisco, District 3 webmaster. "There would be almost no chance of smaller schools getting on the schedule of larger schools, who don't want to be harmed. Strength of schedule is big portion of the power rankings." 

One of the biggest questions with the PIAA reclassification surrounded the range of numbers that dictate which teams fall into which classes. For instance, in girls basketball, to be in Class 1A, a school must have fewer than 96 in female enrollment. For 2A, the range is between 97 and 147 girls - a difference of 50 girls from top to bottom. Moving up, the range in 5A is a difference of 150 girls (317 to 467). 

The largest class in each sport has the biggest range. Waynesboro's girls basketball team, with a female enrollment of 502, will be competing in the same class as a team like Chambersburg, with a female enrollment of 805. The way PIAA calculates those ranges is it takes all the schools that compete in a certain sport and divides the number of schools evenly between each classification. 

"We try to do the best we can, so that there are about the same amount of schools in each class," Mertz said. "At some point, you have to break it somewhere. You're not going to make every single person happy about it, but we do it from the standpoint that every single class has the same number of chances at (PIAA) postseason." 

Although many coaches in Franklin and Fulton counties have issues and obstacles they'll have to overcome under the new system, Mertz said there has been almost no pushback.

But as with any big change, only time will tell. 

Reclassification by the numbers

39: Number of area teams affected by PIAA reclassification

7: Number of area schools affected

2: Number of area PIAA teams not moving classifications in any sport (Southern Fulton, Fannett-Metal)

97: Number of female enrollment required to be a 2A girls basketball team; also number of female enrollment at McConnellsburg

353: Highest number of male enrollment allowed to still be a 4A baseball team; also number of male enrollment at Shippensburg