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Can South Dakota find right football classification system?

Sean Ryan/Republic Avon football players, from front, Dominique Stout, Damond Pohl and Jesse Chambers warm up prior to a Class 9B high school football playoff game last season in Avon.

A new classification proposal has yet again prompted discussion among the South Dakota high school football community.

The feedback the South Dakota High School Activities Association staff received after unveiling the six-class system in January led to another option, which was brought forward earlier this month at the South Dakota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Spring Conference in Deadwood.

Under the newest proposal, the system will stay with seven classes, with an additional 11-man class and one fewer nine-man. The 11-man classes would include 11AAA, 11AA, 11A, 11B and 11C.

SDHSAA assistant executive director John Krogstrand said there were several reasons that provoked another classification option. The 11C class addresses schools that have played 11-man football for a long time but because of enrollment fall into nine-man.

“Concern has been expressed by schools that have played 11-man forever and want to continue, but can’t because of numbers and disparity of schedule because of conference alignment and enrollment,” Krogstrand said.

Another reason for 11C is for schools that want to co-op but don’t want to end up playing top-tier 11A schools.

“We want to keep those schools that co-op self contained with size-like schools,” Krogstrand said. “For larger nine-man schools this will increase participation and could accommodate some more players.”

Howard athletic director and football coach Pat Ruml, whose team plays in 9A, said allowing more players to compete for the small schools could lessen the quality of play. Gregory football coach Brian Allmendinger agreed, saying his team would have been in trouble last season if the Gorillas would’ve played 11-man.

“By week two, we were down five players for an extended amount of time,” Allmendinger said. “It’s hard enough filling those spots on a nine-man roster for schools our size. For 11-man, we would’ve been looking passed juniors and sophomores toward freshmen. I don’t have an issue with 11-man football, but we’ve got to look out for the safety of our players.”

A major factor in the class realignment will be a school’s ADM (average daily membership), which was voted by athletic and activities directors to use the male only student population to determine football classification. The straw vote was in favor of the change 116-2.

Ruml said many of the small-school administrators were not pleased by the new proposal.

“They want to get South Dakota to be an 11-man state, but let’s face it. We’re a small-town state and those schools are declining in enrollment,” Ruml said, adding he was in favor of using the male population for football classification. “They think there are a lot of schools that are close together that could co-op. They won’t because they’ll move up to 11-man no matter what with these new classes.”

In the straw vote, the football proposal was voted down 34-88. All three nine-man classes voted against the proposal, 11A and 11AA voted in favor of the proposal and 11B and 11AAA were split.

“I don’t see any problem with the system as it is now,” Allmendinger said. “I’m perfectly fine with how it is. I know people don’t want South Dakota to be known as a nine-man state, but football is football. I’ve seen a lot of really good football players come out of nine-man schools and play in college. I don’t think players are any less of a football player for what level they play at.”

Mitchell activities director Geoff Gross said the proposal will not affect the Kernels and the discussion is there for schools that will be affected.

There will be another discussion at the SDHSAA board meeting next week and nothing is set in stone.

“Next year, we will be under the same rules as this year, and now it’s just figuring out what we’re going to do in 2015-16,” Krogstrand said.

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.