SANDY — Small school football coaches have complained for years that competing against larger schools isn't just unfair to student athletes, it's dangerous.
The state's high school administrators apparently agree with that assessment as the Utah High School Activities Association's Executive Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday afternoon to recommend the Board of Trustees align the state's football teams into six classifications starting in 2013.
"Most of the indigestion … surrounding realignment has come from football," said Highland principal Paul Schulte, who chaired the state's realignment committee. The committee studied the issue for the last year and decided to recommend moving to six classifications in only football because the size of a school's student body uniquely affects both safety and success.
"The ratio difference between the (largest) and (smallest) schools is almost identical (in every classification), when you go to six classifications," Schulte said. "That way, everybody is competing against similar size schools in every classification. We've never been under two, ever, in what we now call 3A and 2A. This is very equitable."
Added UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff, "If we're about safety, competitive play and fair play, you can't get any better than this."
He cautioned that this does not mean the state is moving to six classifications in every sport.
"This is not a first step in that direction," said Cuff. "This is by no means the message (the committee) wanted to send. It's a football issue, a safety issue and a fair play issue."
The proposal was tweaked in two ways — the two largest classifications will use only junior and senior student enrollment numbers, while the three (or four in football) smallest classifications will use sophomore, junior and senior student numbers.
Secondly, the proposal will be finalized in the BOT meeting after the last public hearing next fall. That means schools will know by late November what classification and regions they're in for the 2013 school year.
The new proposal by the realignment committee tweaks the new alignment procedure in a few ways as well.
The proposal now goes to the Board of Trustees and that group will vote on it next week. They could also make changes, as the executive committee did Wednesday.
"Then there will be a public hearing in March," said Cuff. The only items that need to be determined before the final student counts come in next October are the format, the ranges in each class and the number of teams in each class.
While some expressed a desire to look at six classifications in all sports, most wanted to address football now and hold other discussions for a later date.
The proposal met with no opposition and very few questions when presented Wednesday.
Some wondered if it would make earning a state title less of an accomplishment because there are fewer schools, but most didn't think that would be the sentiment.
"In this state, you can't have it both ways," said Executive Committee chairman Craig Hammer. "For a lot of people, for many years (this situation) has been unpalatable. So let's try this."
The proposal outlined the following number of schools in each football classification: 6A would have 24 schools; 5A would have 28 schools; 4A would have 16 schools; 3A would have 12 schools; 2A would have 12 schools; the remaining schools would make up the 1A classification.
For all other sports, there were ranges proposed. In 5A there would be between 24 and 28 schools; in 4A there would be between 28 and 32 schools; in 3A there would be between 16 and 24 schools; in 2A there would be between 16 and 24 schools; the remaining schools would make up the 1A classification.