MSHSAA will expand number of classes in 10 sports in 2020-21

By PAUL STURM,C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — When – or if – Missouri high school sports resume in some form or fashion during a 2020-21 school year, noteworthy expansion in the number of competition classes for a variety of sports, as well as another change involving non-public schools’ classifications for each sport, will take effect, with Chillicothe High School sports programs likely to experience mixed impact.
In the Missouri State High School Activities Association’s annual issues election in spring 2019, the membership approved – by majority vote – increasing the number of enrollment-based classes for 10 sports, including basketball, the MSHSAA communications office has confirmed.
Beginning in their next season of school competition, the MSHSAA-sanctioned sports of basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball, tennis (both genders), and boys’ golf will add one classification strata. Girls’ golf will double its competition classes from two to four.
Classifications for public schools with teams in those sports will continue to be based on their respective student enrollments. However, there also is a change for non-public schools.
Rather than each non-public school’s raw enrollment (the number is doubled, if it’s a single-gender school) being multiplied by a fixed number (previously 1.35) to set its total for classifying purposes, the raw (or doubled) enrollment will be the basis, but each of the school’s sports programs will be subject to “championship factor” assessment, based on the program’s postseason advancements over the prior six years, according to the MSHSAA spokesman. Essentially, the more success a “private” school has in a particular sport in that time frame, the larger its postseason-competition classification will be, with a maximum of being two classes higher than its enrollment total.
Based on history, that looks most likely to impact tennis and golf schools, where the combination of the individualized nature of those sports, along with having well-established, highly-trained coaches and traditions of success, have been seen as making those schools “magnets” to more-experienced and more-talented players than a public school of the same or somewhat-larger size would have randomly.
A C-T examination of Chillicothe’s 2019-20 official enrollment (417), the enrollments of all MSHSAA member schools (as shown on the association’s website), and the enrollment “breaks” for each sport and classification for the past year and an extrapolation of that information to the new 2020-21 setup seems to suggest that – after being one of the state’s largest-enrollment schools to be included in basketball’s Class 3 for four of the past six years – CHS’ teams are most likely to be included in Class 4 (third-largest) semi-permanently under the 6-classes setup.
“I think we will be in class 4.” agrees Darren Smith, Lady Hornets head coach.
If C-T estimates are anywhere near correct and Class 4 encompasses schools with student-population totals ranging from around 340-620, Chillicothe – assuming its enrollment remains in the vicinity of what it has been in recent years – would be back in the same basketball classification as most of its fellow Midland Empire Conference members. It also would be far enough above the bottom cutoff that moving down a class in basketball in a given year would seem unlikely.
Among the other six sports involved in the expansion of classes, it currently appears CHS would be affected only by girls’ golf going from two to four classes. It seems virtually certain the golf Lady Hornets would land in Class 2.
Explaining the concept of the proposal MSHSAA member schools adopted in spring 2019, Jason West, association communications director, shared with the C-T recently, “The new system would try to keep the difference between the largest school in a class and the smallest school in a class to no more than double.
“There are a couple of guidelines to making this a possibility:
1) The number of schools in (an sport’s) smallest class (Class 1) will be based on a percentage of schools that are registered for that activity; and
2) the remaining classifications should have as close to a 2.0 differential (largest member about twice as big as the smallest) as possible.”
The only way to meet that primary aim was to increase the number of classes in most sports.
West noted that non-public schools’ assessed “championship factor” points will not play a part in the differential (school-size) consideration. If the postseason success of a non-public school’s team in a given sport is so significant that it pushes it up into a classification with schools with more than twice its raw enrollment, the “championship factor” adjustment will take precedence over the larger enrollment disparity.
What that could do – but likely in a very-limited number of cases – is push a school or two or three at the bottom of the classification to which the highly-successful program is assigned down to the next class below.
The Chillicothe sport potentially most affected by the new “championship factor” provision would figure to be tennis. Under the new arrangement, several traditionally-powerful, non-public schools in Kansas City (St. Pius X, Pembroke Hill, Barstow) could find themselves – in one or both genders – pushed up into Class 2 in the new 3-tiered postseason-competition arrangement, while CHS’ programs stay put in Class 1.
The addition of a third tennis classification also conceivably – between the extra class and upward movement resulting from the “championship factor” – could see perennial public-school powerhouse and CHS nemesis Marshall, with its larger enrollment (578 in 2019-20), land in Class 2, removing it as a postseason obstacle for the Hornets or Lady Hornets.
Among related effects of the growth in the number of classifications will be the size of district-tournament fields, which will become smaller, and – for sports like basketball, softball, and baseball – the 2-pronged challenge of meshing district- and state-tournament game schedules with the available supply of officials/umpires.
In basketball, where 8-schools districts are the norm, with an additional classification reducing the number of total schools in any one class, 6- or 7-schools districts figure to become more common, especially when dictated by travel distances.
The smaller number of teams in each district could be a boon on those occasions when bad winter weather forces postponements in some areas, since – if it happened to be an opening round – there could be fewer games to reschedule.
With the restratification of the 10 sports by MSHSAA, basketball and baseball will join football in being divided into six classes. Volleyball, fall softball, and boys’ golf move from four to five, tennis and spring softball from two to three, and, as mentioned, girls’ golf from two to four.