Dear Athletic Support: I’m a huge fan of the local high school teams. Always will be, but I do have one question: Why do we play smaller schools throughout the season? I mean, I like winning as much as everybody else but is it fair to play all these smaller schools? Based on population, we should win in every single sport! I’m not sure why or when this change occurred, but I just noticed it this year. It’s weird. We play a bunch of smaller schools throughout the season, and then we play the same teams we used to in the playoffs. What’s the point of the regular season? I don’t get it. What say you, sir?
—Cyclone At Heart
Dear Cyclone: There was a recent restructuring of the classifications in Arkansas. This happens every so often and can have a huge impact on the win/loss column.
There are some schools whose enrollment is right on the bubble. What I mean here is that, depending on the year, they could go from being the smallest school in a classification to being the largest.
Being a big fish in a little pond can definitely help when it comes to winning ball games. If you’re wondering who makes these decisions and how they’re made, well, let’s just say it’s complicated.
Each state has an activity board. These are the people in charge of organizing that state’s athletic programs. When it comes time for a reclassification, the board considers many different factors, the main two being the distance each school has to travel and the size of the school.
The recent restructuring in Arkansas that you mentioned was a compromise of those two factors, and it mainly had to do with spring sports (basketball, baseball, softball, etc.)
They set up the regular season so teams could play the schools that are geographically closest to them. That way they could save money on gas and also keep the student athletes from having to spend so much time out of the classroom. Then, when it comes time for the playoffs, the schools go back to playing teams who are closest to their own size.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a meeting where these sorts of topics are covered, so there’s a good chance I might’ve botched some of the exact details of the latest reclassification. Nevertheless, the basic elements remain: size of enrolment and geographical location.
Over the years, teams have moved up and down in class (private schools especially), which goes to show there’s no easy answer to this question.
It also brings to light just how subjective sports can be. We place so much emphasis on high school coaches and whether or not they are doing a “good” job. When in reality, something as simple as moving up or down a class could completely change the outcome of the season, and many more seasons to come!
Eli Cranor is a former professional quarterback and coach turned award-winning author. Send questions for “Athletic Support” to email@example.com