OUR VIEW: Time has arrived for AAA classThere is a chasm developing among this state’s largest football programs, as schools with the highest enrollments begin pulling away from the rest of the state in correlating terms of enrollment and success.
It’s quite likely fans of Sioux Falls schools chortle when they hear talk of splitting Class 11AA football into two separate divisions. After all, nobody clamored for such measures back in the 1980s and early 1990s, when Eastern South Dakota Conference schools like Mitchell, Brandon Valley, Yankton and Pierre were among South Dakota’s elite programs.
But today, such talk is percolating and with good reason. There is a chasm developing among this state’s largest football programs, as schools with the highest enrollments begin pulling away from the rest of the state in correlating terms of enrollment and success.
Saturday night, Sioux Falls Washington will play in its fifth consecutive state Class AA title game. The Warriors’ opponent is Sioux Falls Roosevelt, which is making its fourth title-game appearance in eight years. Those schools not only have emerged as two of the top programs in the state, but they also rank Nos. 1 and 2 in enrollment. According to the South Dakota High School Activities Association, Washington’s enrollment in grades 9-11 — the figure used to determine sports classification — was 1,643, as of Jan. 15. Roosevelt’s was 1,555.
In January, the SDHSAA Board of Directors will consider a proposal to split Class 11AA, moving the top eight enrollment schools into a new Class 11AAA while leaving the remaining eight schools in 11AA. If that happens, Washington and Roosevelt would be joined in the new division by Rapid City Central (1,542 students in grades 9-11), Sioux Falls Lincoln (1,467), Rapid City Stevens (1,234), Aberdeen (891), Watertown (876) and Brandon Valley (761).
The SDHSAA would allow teams to move up if they desire, and we would assume Sioux Falls O’Gorman (549) would consider doing that. If so, the No. 8 team — in this case, Brandon Valley — would drop down to Class 11AA.
So, another football class in South Dakota. After complaining in the past about the state’s ample classification system, we can’t believe we’re saying this, but we think it’s a good idea.
To ask teams to compete against schools that are three times larger just isn’t fair. Should Gregory (97 students) be in the same class as West Central (296)? Would it be fair to ask Parkston (142) to enter the playoffs against Spearfish (449) each October?
Although Gregory and Parkston both have had teams that could compete at such high levels, it wouldn’t be fair to ask them to do it each season. Yet last week, Mitchell (574) was tasked with beating Sioux Falls Washington (1,643) before the Kernels could take their exceptional team further into the playoffs. Result: Washington 24, Mitchell 7.
Since 2004, 16 teams have qualified for the Class 11AA title game. All but one — Yankton, in 2005 — have enrollments that would place them in the proposed Class 11AAA.
Population trends show that Sioux Falls schools will continue to grow in the coming years. We hope Mitchell’s population grows, too, but it’s unrealistic to predict this city’s growth will keep pace with Sioux Falls in the next decade or two. More than any other sport, football is a game of depth and numbers, and those larger schools have a distinct advantage with their large enrollments.
Too, we suspect more specialization — weight training and the like — in those schools. As a result, there is not only growth in their student bodies, but also in their students’ bodies.
Splitting Class 11AA into two divisions will be clumsy and will water down the state title chase. But it’s fair, and it’s the right thing to do.