The talent gap may be closing between Class 11AA and Class 11A.
Rumblings grew louder from proponents of merging the two 11-man football classes as the smaller class went 4-3 in the first round of crossover games on Sept. 6.
The eight Class 11AA schools average 601 students in average daily membership, while Class 11A schools average 259. While there is still a question of whether the smaller schools could keep pace long-term, there is no doubt the competitive gap is closer than some anticipated.
“With the results of the first round of games, I think it’s obvious that the gap is much closer,” Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. “From the (Class 11A) teams I’ve seen on film, I think one thing they all have in common is that they play football at a high level. I don’t think it has been eye-opening to most people, but to some people, the gap is closer.”
With the second wave of games beginning today, there is an opportunity to provide more definitive conclusion or more questions could arise.
Some key games on the slate pit Class 11A No. 1 Tea Area at Class 11AA No. 1 Pierre in a matchup of defending state champions, while Class 11AA No. 3 Mitchell hosts Class 11A No. 2 Dell Rapids and Class 11AA No. 2 Brookings also travels to Class 11A No. 4 Madison.
The Tea Area tilt with Pierre is also noteworthy due to rising numbers in elementary schools that expect to put the Titans in Class 11AA within five years. For now, though, enrollment numbers are still key.
Pierre head coach Steve Steele notes that many of his guys are two-way players, similar to Class 11A teams, but the Governors have more than 130 more boys in the school to choose from than Tea.
“There’s a definite advantage,” Tea Area head coach Craig Clayberg said. “Say you have 300 boys and you get 50 out for football, where as you have a school that’s still in your class and they have 450. There’s 150 boys to choose from.
“Still, football comes down to football,” Clayberg continued. “You could have a very talented class and beat a bigger school that isn’t as a talent. It just comes down to what kind of athletes you have and how well you prepare them.”
As teams wait to see how the second round of games unfold, the two classes are enjoying the aspect of new competition. Some games have created brand new matchups or opponents that have not played in years.
Through film study, Steele has noticed a variety of different offenses in the Class 11A ranks that would provide unique intellectual and physical challenges.
“If you follow Big Ten football, they always have their conference games,” Steele said. “But they have three games where they go play someone completely different and I think that’s a neat thing to do, because you’re going to see a different brand of football.”
While 11AA and 11A schools are still determining how close the gap is, it appears on the whole, those such teams are closer than Class 11AA’s previously scheduled opponents in Class 11AAA.
A season ago, this year’s 11AA teams went 9-13 against this year’s 11AAA teams, not to mention the average ADM differential is more than double than that of 11A.
“We’ve proven to be competitive with (11AAA teams) at certain times,” VanOverschelde said. “Year in and year out, that gap between A and AA is closer than that of AA and AAA.”