PIERRE -- One of the most discussed topics in prep football in 2019 was classification and alignment changes, and changes could be on the way, beginning in the fall of 2021.

The South Dakota High School Activities Association Football Advisory Committee received multiple suggestions, and Thursday, opted to push ahead with a proposal for trimming seven classes to five -- three 11-man and two nine-man divisions.

The proposal will be reviewed by the state’s athletic directors for recommendations during their annual conference in March and they will also have to move through two readings with SDHSAA Board of Directors before any chance of implementation for the 2021-2023 two-year cycle.

“It’s been a long-term discussion amongst the membership,” SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand said. “(Thursday), was probably one of the most in-depth conversations we’ve had looking at and critically analyzing classifications in the sport of football in South Dakota since that seven-class proposal was added.”

Five-class football system

While nearly 20 options were offered by coaches and administrators -- including a six-class system -- it was the five-class proposal that moved through.

The proposal would call for the 10 largest schools (including Sioux Falls O’Gorman, which has historically moved up to play in the highest division) to be placed in Class 11AA, the next largest 16 in Class 11A and the remaining 11-man schools in Class 11B. Meanwhile, nine-man classes would be trimmed from three to two with 28-30 teams in each.

In this proposal, the top-eight teams in Cass 11AA and Class 11A would qualify for the playoffs, while the top-16 teams in Class 11B would be playoff-eligible.

“The committee really had as in-depth of a conversation that we’ve had in years about why classifications are the way they are,” Krogstrand said. “I think the committee felt that maybe it wasn’t best for one part, but it was best for the whole.”

Class 11AA was an area of concern for many around the state with all eight teams qualifying for the playoffs this season, and voices of opponents of the setup swelled when Class 11A teams posted a 6-7 record in crossover games this year, as well as Class 11B St. Thomas More going 3-0 against 11AA squads.

Neither situation was a major factor in the decision to move forward with the five-class proposal according to Krogstrand, however.

“Classifications, state tournaments and alignments seem to forever be hot topics that are always under review,” Krogstrand said. “In this specific scenario, I don’t think it was any one event that triggered a massive change other than the fact that we didn’t know what the population shift had been in South Dakota. Sioux Falls’ metro area is growing, while the rest of the state is holding steady or declining.”

While the six-class proposal -- featuring four 11-man classes -- was trumped in favor of five, both saw to cut the nine-man classes to two.

The committee looked into the male average daily membership number to cut between 11 and nine-man classes and did not want to waver from the current number of 56. They also looked at when they originally opted to move to three classes. The current SDHSAA rule calls for nine-man classes to two divisions if the number of teams drops to 64.

There were 68 teams this season after the creation of the All Nations Conference and some programs have announced that they won’t be able to field a team during the next cycle unless something drastically changes within the program, according to Krogstrand.

“Nothing size-wise changed for anybody,” said Byron Pudwill, Bon Homme head coach and a member of the advisory committee. “That’s pretty fair. We didn’t want to change the nine-man enrollment numbers. A lot of the stuff that came down happened because of 11-man. Questions about classifications, alignment -- nobody was complaining about nine-man.”

Mercy rule for 11-man classes proposed

The mercy rule -- or lack thereof -- was another hot topic this season, particularly in Class 11AA after Pierre steamrolled through its regular season schedule and defeated Spearfish 103-0 in the first round of the playoffs.

The proposal is to add a mercy rule in which a 35-point lead at any point in the second half results in a running clock for the duration of the game. It would not include a 50-point termination rule and reflects a similar rule used for prep football in Wisconsin.

Minnesota employs a similar 35-point rule in the fourth quarter, but if the margin drops to 30, normal clock procedures resume. Nebraska has a 35-point rule in the second half, but if the score dips below 35, clock procedures return to normal.

Two proposals dealing with the first day of practice and another regarding the 10 percent rule co-op enrollments were also pushed ahead.