On Thursday, the WVSSAC released the new classifications that will take effect in the 2016-17 school year and run through 2019-20. From the very first glance, high school sports fans throughout the state realized that the landscape has changed drastically in all three classes.
The biggest catalyst for that shifting landscape is the decision to make the cut line between AAA and AA much higher than it has been in previous years. Class AAA was cut off with Ripley at 933 students, and Lincoln County is the largest AA with 871 students.
When the current classifications were determined, Point Pleasant was the largest AAA with 782 students, about 150 less than the new cutoff. The largest AA school for the current class was Berkeley Springs at 777, almost 100 less than the current largest AA.
Because of this cutoff, AAA will shrink from 38 to 29 schools, while AA will expand to 44 schools and Class A to 54 schools. This is a much more substantial shakeup than we usually see in reclassification.
The nine smallest schools from the current AAA class will drop down to AA: Lincoln County, Oak Hill, Elkins, Shady Spring, Logan, Winfield, Nitro, Lewis County, and Point Pleasant. There are also five teams that will drop from AA down to A: Summers County, Tolsia, Mount View, Ritchie County, Webster County, and Ravenswood. The only team in the state to move up a classification will be Man, who moves from A up to AA.
I have some observations on this, many of which pertain specifically to basketball:
-If I could ask the WVSSAC one question regarding this, it would be: Why choose to make AAA smaller, and, specifically, why now? (Ok, maybe that’s two questions, or at least a two-part question.) I’ve heard SSAC representatives in the past talk about choosing where “natural breaks” in the numbers occur and splitting the classes there. Without a doubt, there is a big gap (62 students) between Ripley and Lincoln County where AAA and AA are split. But there is also a big gap (31 students) between Fairmont Senior (811) and Robert C. Byrd (780), which is much bigger than the 5-student gap where the split was made in the current classification. If the split was made here, there would be 35 schools in AAA, much closer to the traditional number of schools in the class. Furthermore, the gap between Ripley and Lincoln County was even larger last time around at 85 students. Why did they not choose to make the split there last time?
-The first point isn’t necessarily a criticism, but just something that legitimately interests me. In fact, I think an argument can be made that this reclassification will be a little fairer than it has been in a long time. I’m not necessarily sure I agree with that, but I’ll make the case. Here goes:
The biggest gap in enrollment is in AAA, where Cabell Midland comes in with 1,965 students, roughly 1,000 students larger than Ripley, the smallest in the class. The smaller you can make the gap in each class, the fairer the competition in each class. Lowering the gap from roughly 1,100 students to a little over 1,000 helps. The gap in AA is not significantly larger now, at about 400 students from Lincoln County at 871 to Man at 460. The gap in “A” is smaller than that, with the largest school (Ravenswood) having 433 students. So it’s not perfect, but the gaps in each class are a little better than they would have been. I’m willing to wait and see how this plays out.
(I think this is actually a better argument for four classes, but I don’t think there’s much of a chance at all of that happening.)
-The southern coalfields are now almost entirely AA schools. Just going down Corridor G from Charleston you have Lincoln County, Scott, Chapmanville, Logan, Man, and Mingo Central. Oak Hill and Shady Spring are back down to AA as well, and only Tolsia and Mount View dropped to A from that region. Only Woodrow Wilson, Princeton, and Greenbrier East remain as AAA schools.
-Similarly, North Central WV is now AA territory. Buckhannon-Upshur is now pretty much all alone as a AAA school in the middle of the state.
-This doesn’t feel permanent to me. Perhaps the SSAC will decide to keep this format moving forward with a significantly smaller AAA class than AA and A, but I feel like there will be quite a bit of shakeup in schedules and conferences just to have much of that reversed in four years.
-Speaking of conferences, not much will be more interesting to me than what the Cardinal Conference decides to do. Tolsia will likely be out now that they are back down to Class A, which will put the membership at 7. There are as many as six schools that logically could be looking to join (or re-join) the Cardinal after moving to AA: Logan, Point Pleasant, Winfield, Nitro, Man, Lincoln County. How many of those teams would truly want to join? How big would the Cardinal want to get? What happens in four years if some of these schools are back to AAA or A? This will be very interesting to monitor.
-I don’t know how AA basketball will be anything but amazing the next four years. Some of the major programs in the last 15 years are now back in AA, such as Logan, Winfield, and Oak Hill. In addition to that, none of the new major players, like Robert C. Byrd, Fairmont Senior, and Bridgeport, will be moving back up. (Ok, I know Bridgeport has been a major player in AA before the last few years. You know what I mean, though.) Tug Valley and Ravenswood will be in A, but Mingo Central is a young AA school that’s building a program, and Chapmanville and Scott have turned into major players in that region as well. Add that to mainstays like Bluefield, Wyoming East, Westside, and Poca, and AA is absolutely stacked for the next four years. I love nothing more than AA basketball, and it’s going to be great.
-If the current postseason format stays the same, some AAA teams will receive a bye to a regional final. With only 29 teams in the class, there will be at least three of the eight sections that have only three schools. The top seed would presumably receive a bye and host the sectional championship (if not on a neutral court). Even if that team loses the sectional championship, they would still advance to a regional final. This also means that in the postseason, a team could lose one game, then win one and still advance to the state tournament. I don’t think I like that.
Speaking of regions and alignment, let’s take a quick look at some of those:
In AAA, I think the sections are pretty cut and dry. The bigger question might be which sections get paired with which to form the regions.
The Eastern Panhandle will likely now be its own region. It’s just a matter of how the region is split. Hampshire will likely be in a section either with two Berkeley County schools or the two Jefferson County schools. This will probably be a 7 team region.
I think Buckhannon-Upshur will join Preston, Morgantown, and University in a section. The other section in that region will likely be Brooke, Wheeling Park, and John Marshall.
Logically, Parkersburg, Parkersburg South, and Ripley would form another section. They could join with a section of Huntington, Hurricane, Spring Valley, and Cabell Midland, or they could possibly join with a section of Capital, George Washington, South Charleston, and St. Albans. The other section would likely be Princeton, Greenbrier East, Woodrow Wilson, and Riverside. Those are the most logical sections to me. We’ll see how that shakes out.
My best guess:
R1 S1: Brooke, Wheeling Park, John Marshall
R1 S2: Buckhannon-Upshur, Morgantown, University Preston
R2: Hampshire, Washington, Jefferson, Martinsburg, Hedgesville, Musselman, Spring Mills
R3 S1: Greenbrier East, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson, Riverside
R3 S2: South Charleston, George Washington, Capital, St. Albans
R4 S1: Huntington, Hurricane, Cabell Midland, Spring Valley
R4 S2: Parkersburg, Parkersburg South, Ripley
In AA, the picture isn’t quite as clear. There will be just too many teams in the geographical area that now makes up Regions 3 and 4. I’m not sure how the sections will be divided, but I’d think Bluefield, James Monroe, River View, Independence, Liberty (R), Shady, Oak Hill, Nicholas County, PikeView, Wyoming East, and Westside would make up Region 3.
Region 4 will probably be Mingo Central, Man, Logan, Chapmanville, Wayne and Scott in one section. Then, I would think the other section would be Winfield, Nitro, Lincoln County, Point Pleasant, and Poca. Some teams have to leave this region, and I think it makes the most sense for it to be Nicholas County (to R3), Herbert Hoover, Sissonville, and Clay County.
I would think Hoover, Sissonville, and Clay could join Roane County and Braxton County in a section. I’d imagine this would be in Region 1 opposite the current section of Weir, Oak Glen, North Marion, Fairmont Senior, and East Fairmont.
One of the sections in Region 2 is still intact with Bridgeport, RCB, Lincoln, Liberty (H), Philip Barbour, and Grafton. The other is as well, though it is likely to add at least one to its four members: Keyser, Berkeley Springs, Frankfort, and Petersburg.
This leaves two teams to add in: Elkins and Lewis County. I’d think Elkins would join Petersburg, Keyser, etc. Lewis could fit in just about any, but I’d think they’d probably go with Braxton, Roane, etc. since there are only 5 teams in that section and 6 in the region. So here’s my AA guess, (only of regions, not necessarily sections):
R1: Weir, Oak Glen, North Marion, Fairmont Senior, East Fairmont, Lewis County, Herbert Hoover, Sissonville, Clay County, Roane County, Braxton County.
R2: Bridgeport, Robert C. Byrd, Lincoln, Liberty (H), Philip Barbour, Grafton, Elkins, Petersburg, Berkeley Springs, Keyser, Frankfort
R3: Bluefield, James Monroe, River View, Independence, Liberty (R), Shady, Oak Hill, Nicholas County, PikeView, Wyoming East, Westside
R4: Mingo Central, Logan, Man, Chapmanville, Wayne, Scott, Poca, Nitro, Winfield, Point Pleasant, Lincoln County
As for Class A alignments, well…there’s a lot of them, and my head hurts from trying to sort this stuff out, and I’d be surprised if anyone is still actually reading at this point, considering how many words I’ve already typed. So we’ll save single A for another day.