Opinion: NMAA Should Return to Five Classes

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Copyright 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)


By noon on Wednesday, the board of directors of the New Mexico Activities Association may very well have voted to return the state to a five-classification system, beginning in 2018.

But may I just interject here and throw in my two cents?

Keep it at six classes, folks.

Just for basketball.

Having been at this job for a while, it's no secret among the coaches and schools that a majority of them have wanted to go back to five classes. And they're right. New Mexico was never big enough - population speaking, not geographically speaking - for six classes. It always has looked unnatural.

Arizona has six. Oklahoma has six. Colorado has five, and do you know how many schools play boys basketball in 5A in Colorado? There are 65 of them, by my count.

We don't need more than five here.

How will a five-class system look from a classification and alignment standpoint? Hard to say with precision; we know virtually nothing yet (officially) of the parameters being discussed. We will visit this multiple times throughout the year, up to and including the final proposal that will need to be voted on and approved by the fall so it may be instituted for the 2018-19/2019-20 block.

It could have some interesting features, including one notion that I've heard circulating quietly for many months - placing schools from different classes into one conference.

As I said, there will be plenty of time for everyone to pick away at that as we advance through the calendar year.

But my primary objective today is a friendly plea to the NMAA.

If the vote is to return to five classes, do the smart thing and leave basketball outside that bubble. Keep that sport at six, which is what we have now. (Volleyball and track are the only other sports where there are six champions named; football has seven divisions at present.)

The reasoning for keeping basketball at six is straightforward enough, starting with this: Virtually everybody plays basketball. And New Mexico is, by and large, a hoops-mad state. In some areas, slightly madder than others.

Retaining six classes will continue to make it possible for more schools to compete - and even contend - for a blue trophy. And I love the notion of the little guys continuing to have a shot. Many more of them would see their chances diminish greatly in a five-class system.

There are 155 basketball-playing schools. Do the math. In a five-class format, assuming a fairly even distribution of schools, there are more schools to beat.

No major team sport has more schools participating than basketball, although volleyball (153), I was surprised to find, was a close second. (For the record, I do not even remotely advocate keeping volleyball at six classes. Five is plenty.)

Which segues nicely into the next slice of this pie:


State basketball brings in barrels full of dollars. It is the NMAA's biggest cash cow among all the postseason tournaments. It is the one sport that draws more neutral sports fans to its playoffs than any other. By far.

So, staying at six classes makes sense financially.

The third reason is perhaps the one I would press hardest on. I've written on this subject before, but it bears repeating.

Basketball is the only high school sport we have in which every boy and girl share a central vision in terms of competing at a particular playoff venue.

Basketball is all-inclusive. It is communal. If you live in north-central New Mexico, it's the Hatfields and McCoys on an almost weekly basis.

That second week of state is our giant melting pot, a week that cannot be defined by gender or race or religion or economics. It is the largest, loudest sports party in this state, and there isn't even a close second.

So, I respectfully ask the NMAA to consider this unusual template, and leave basketball at six classes. Everyone wins. More championship games at the Pit is never a bad idea, right?


A common refrain I hear from coaches is that the state playoffs are watered down with too many undeserving teams, that the postseason lacks the exclusivity, the heft, that it ought to have. It's a valid point.

There is an argument to be made here, particularly as it relates to basketball where we see so many blowouts in the first round especially among the bottom four seeds. Not to mention the often extreme and exhausting travel issues that are an integral aspect to this equation.

I would not find it objectionable if the NMAA were to follow the lead of football and soccer and reduce future basketball postseason brackets - baseball and softball, too, while we're at it - from 16 teams to 12. The template of a dozen seems to work extremely well.

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February 13, 2017


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