MIDVALE — Whether or not a high school football team wins may soon play a role in determining where it competes.
For years, some schools have argued that the most unfair advantage some high schools have over others isn’t great coaching or talented student-athletes.
Instead, it’s variables that a school can’t control like a transient student population, a high number of students on fee waivers, or athletes living in poverty. Such students are not only less likely to participate, but less able to pay fees, let alone extras (like camps and clinics) that help a team compete at a higher level.
The executive committee of the Utah High School Activities Association narrowly advanced a proposal written by the group’s realignment committee that attempts to account for disparate financial situations. The vote was 9-7 with most of the no votes coming from principals of smaller 1A and 2A schools.
“This is not a silver bullet,” said assistant director Bart Thompson, who helped come up with the math formula that would be used to adjust for success. “It’s something to address the concerns of schools who felt disadvantaged by the clientele (of) their school.”
The issue isn’t settled as the UHSAA’s board of trustees will actually decide what criteria should be used when forming regions and classifications. That group will meet next week, on June 12, to hear the proposal, which was hammered out in lengthy committee meetings during the last two months.
“There are those out there who believe we do nothing about poverty (and how it affects schools),” said UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff. “The only way to know if it will work is to try it out.”
Duchesne principal Stan Young is among those opposed to the new proposal. He worries that the system would reward those who lose and penalize those who win.
Thompson acknowledged that was a concern for some. But then he jokingly added, “It’s not a punishment, it’s a reward, because you get to play teams that are good.”
Cuff and Thompson said everyone involved agreed that using the formula on all sports would be impossible as it would create huge advantages in some sports and huge hurdles in others when you averaged success across all the athletics at a high school. Instead, it’s an approach that works only on a single sport.
In the last alignment, the UHSAA created a separate classification for football, dividing the sport into six classifications while all other sports are still divided into five classes.
Thompson pointed out that the usual issues associated with realignment — travel time and costs, traditional rivalries and time out of school — will all still be part of the discussion and decision-making process.
Success will simply be a factor, Thompson added. In gauging success, the UHSAA staff came up with a complicated math formula that assigns a team points for success and then adjusts based on how that compares with the average. While realignment will take place every two years, the “success” formula would be based on four years of results.
Socioeconomic concerns have always been raised during realignments. But with the rise of club teams and private coaching, the issue has become more prominent, especially at larger urban schools. In March, several educators, including representatives from Weber County and Kearns High, offered ways to help schools dealing with these issues.
But whatever the concerns were, Thompson pointed out, the problems all led to the same problem.
“They all led to, ‘We can’t compete,'” he said. “We figured there may even be other factors, so if that’s the end goal, why aren’t we just looking at who can’t compete? If that’s the holy grail that everybody is concerned about, why don’t we just use it?”
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