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Sports >  High school sports

WIAA approves dramatic changes to high school sports classifications

Jan. 28, 2019 Updated Mon., Jan. 28, 2019 at 8:56 p.m.

Quarterback Carter Delp (10) of North Central looks for a passing option on Aug. 30, 2018 at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane. West Valley beat North Central 49-0. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Quarterback Carter Delp (10) of North Central looks for a passing option on Aug. 30, 2018 at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane. West Valley beat North Central 49-0. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) voted Monday morning in Renton to approve two proposals that will dramatically change the state’s classification system for athletics.

The organization, made up of 53 administrators from across the state, voted to change the state classifications for athletics from balanced percentages to hard-number caps based on enrollment.

The assembly also approved an amendment that would allow a school to reduce its classification cap number by a percentage of its free and reduced-price student lunches, which would allow it to drop down a classification to help balance competitive inequities.

The changes go into effect for the 2020-21 school year.

“This is the start of a discussion,” WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese told the Seattle Times. “This is the first necessary step. There is no perfect system.”

“We have to become more flexible in providing opportunities for schools to have the kind of competition that is appropriate for their school,” Greater Spokane League/District 8 director Herb Rotchford said last week.

“We can’t continue to put them in a situation where there’s no hope.”

The hard-cap classifications passed 31-3, according to the Times. The new enrollment-based classifications for the next four-year cycle are:

    Class 4A: 1,300-plus

    Class 3A: 900-1,299

    Class 2A: 450-899

    Class 1A: 225-449

    Class 2B: 105-224

    Class 1B: 1-104

The WIAA previously used hard caps prior to the 2006-07 school year.

The free and reduced-price lunch amendment passed 28-7, and not without some changes to the proposal.

The original proposal called for a school to be 10 percent above the state average for students receiving free and reduced-price lunches (roughly 43 percent) in order to qualify, and its cap number would be reduced based upon the difference.

The measure that passed allows for any school above the state average to qualify, without having to meet the 10 percent threshold, with its cap number reduced by its percentage above the state average – up to the maximum of 40 percent. A school can only drop one classification.

A second change to the free and reduced-price lunch amendment limited eligible schools to the four highest classifications, 4A through 1A, citing the potential to negatively impact the competitive balance in the state’s smallest schools.

Because the classifications will be imbalanced, the number of state playoff berths for each classification could change, based on a 4-to-1 ratio of schools per classification. Some classifications could have more berths to state than others.

These changes could have a dramatic impact on area schools and alignment of leagues.

According to Rotchford, as many as four GSL members – Mead, Shadle Park, North Central and Rogers – could meet the threshold to reduce their classification cap number for the upcoming cycle, with area schools Cheney and Deer Park candidates to move up a class based upon an increase in enrollment.

Considering the projected enrollments for the next classification cycle and number of free and reduced-price lunches per school, here’s how area schools could be assigned in the three highest classifications:

    4A: Central Valley, Ferris, Gonzaga Prep (opt-up), Lewis and Clark, University;

    3A: Cheney, Mead, Mt. Spokane;

    2A: Clarkston, Deer Park, East Valley, North Central, Pullman, Rogers, Shadle Park, West Valley.

When Central Valley School District’s new high school, Ridgeline, opens in the fall of 2021, it could very likely lower the enrollment of Central Valley and University, allowing those schools to qualify at the 3A level for the following four-year cycle.

Gonzaga Prep, which has enrollment at the 2A level, would most likely continue to opt-up to 4A for this four-year cycle, but that could change in the future based on other changes.

The GSL is already making some changes in advance of the measures.

According to Rotchford, the GSL is moving forward next season with a football schedule that will not require 3A schools Rogers and North Central – two likely candidates to play down a classification due to the free/reduced-price lunch adjustment – to play a full schedule against the 4A schools.

NC is a combined 6-32 the past four seasons with two league wins – both over Rogers, which is 3-34 in the same span.

In addition, Rotchford said the GSL has been involved in talks with the 2A Great Northern League about the possibility of realignment.

“There is an interest to pursue the possibility of bringing the GNL 2A schools into the Greater Spokane League and having a 2A/3A/4A league,” he said last week.

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