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Having just introduced a sixth class of football to give more schools a genuine chance of winning a state championship, the Utah High School Activities Association now is considering realignment strategy that would reward losing.
Yeah, that's just what we need -- tanking in prep football.
That's the extreme, cynical view of the proposal that would enable some schools to drop in classification and have a better opportunity of winning in the future. The "Success Factor" plan actually is creative, well-intended and definitely worth pursuing, as the UHSAA board of trustees discusses its possible approval Aug. 28.
I'm endorsing it, after going against the six-class format that took effect last season. Awarding a state title to a school in Class 3A with only 11 other contenders would devalue the triumphs of teams at every level, I said. Wrong. All it took to convince me of the championship's worth was a November visit to Judge Memorial, where a proud football tradition was restored and the Catholic community celebrated a landmark victory.
The UHSAA cannot address all the barriers that keep schools from winning football games. Socioeconomic conditions, coaching turnover and a school's athletic culture are beyond its control.
What the UHSAA can do is factor a program's four-year playoff record into enrollment for the sake of classification, giving some schools a better chance to compete -- and, in other cases, make it more difficult for a program to dominate.
Is it a perfect plan? No. "I'm not sure that exists anywhere," said UHSAA assistant director Bart Thompson.
But this would be a good start. It won't hurt powerful Bingham, because there's no way of moving up a 5A school. It also won't help a big 5A school with a losing football program, because the mathematical formula limits the impact of performance on the adjusted enrollment figure. It will affect schools in the lower level of 5A and the higher tier of 4A, with some upward and downward movement.
The fact is that football is a unique sport, as the UHSAA recognizes. Being able to compete physically means everything -- and this realignment method can help 4A schools by elevating some dominant rivals and benefit some 5A programs that can't reasonably measure up to the likes of Bingham.
The method would punish some 4A schools for winning, but only if they're already close to 5A size. And if a successful school such as Timpview moves up, that helps the rest of 4A and could make the best 5A programs work even harder to win state championships. And who wouldn't find a Bingham-Timpview playoff matchup intriguing?
At the other end, some administrators suggest that being reclassified lower in football would create a stigma for the entire school. That's not worth worrying about. If it means giving football players a more healthy experience and potentially creates playoff opportunities that bond the student body, the plan could benefit the school.
As for the tanking side effect, the four-year evaluation period that would affect 2015 realignment already ended last season. There's enough lag time in the formula to keep one non-playoff season from being immediately rewarded -- unlike the NBA's system.
So I'm on board with giving downtrodden programs a better opportunity to compete, as long as high schools are not drafting football players. But who knows? That might be next.