KSHSAA splits Class 4A into two divisions

As the enrollment disparity in Class 4A has gradually increased, competitive disadvantages have become more and more of a concern in recent years. Tuesday morning, that issue became null and void.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association announced Tuesday that the 64-school classification will be split into two 32-team divisions in football, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball.

The proposal, originally issued last year by the Big Seven League, passed by a 42-22 vote. The split will go into effect immediately for volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball. Football is in the middle of its current two-year district cycle, so it will split in 2014.

In 2012-13, 4A had a disparity ratio of 2.83, meaning the largest school (Highland Park, enrollment of 729) was 283 percent larger than the smallest schools (Frontenac and Rock Creek, 258). The disparity has increased over the last decade, growing more than 50 percent since 2003-04. No other class larger than 1A ever had a ratio larger than 1.98 during that span.

The split results in two divisions — 4A-DI and 4A-DII — with ratios of less than 1.7.

The split affects the Kaw Valley League, which has five 4A members. Bonner Springs (708), Basehor-Linwood (599), Tonganoxie (595) and Piper (563) will be in the larger division, while Bishop Ward will be in the smaller division. Ward’s 2012-13 enrollment of 354 was 209 fewer than the next-smallest league school.

Class 5A schools Mill Valley (1,222), Turner (1,102) and Lansing (878) round out the league’s membership.

KVL principals discussed the proposal and ultimately decided to support the idea. The league sent a letter of support to KSHSAA on Oct. 10, 2012.

“After a lengthy discussion, we realized that one school in our league is significantly smaller than the others,” Tonganoxie principal Jamie Carlisle said. “We came to the conclusion as a league that, if a decision was going to benefit one of our schools and not hurt the other schools, then it was a good decision.”

The KVL was one of nine leagues to submit letters of support when the idea for a split was originally presented.

Issues discussed included the potential cost and inconvenience of increased travel, but league principals decided the overall purpose of the proposal outweighed any possible ramifications.

“Those types of things were discussed, but we felt they were less important than giving all schools and opportunity to compete,” said Bonner Springs principal Joe Hornback, the KVL president for the upcoming year. “We’ve seen the competitive balance in our league with Ward be pretty wide. Ward said (a split) would benefit them, so as a league, we decided to support it.”

Ward’s competitive disadvantage in the KVL is indicative of the current statewide imbalance. Over the last five years, larger 4A schools have won 80 percent of the state titles in the five aforementioned sports.

Despite the possible benefits, not all leagues were so quick to support the split. The Frontier League — comprised of seven 4A schools — was the only league to oppose the proposal. The league has two schools that sit near the cutoff line between the two divisions. According to 2012-13 enrollments, Baldwin (456) is the second-smallest 4A-DI school, while Eudora (433) is the second-largest 4A-DII school.

“We visited and shared some of our concerns, which were well-received by the executive board, but the association is run by its member high schools,” Eudora principal G.A. Buie said. “We’re going to move forward and understand our counterparts had a stronger voice than we did, and we’ll make the best of it.”

Other Frontier League members De Soto (690), Paola (650), Ottawa (636), Spring Hill (636) and Louisburg (490) sit among the top 24 schools in 4A-DI.

Nearly all potential 4A-DI schools are located in the eastern half of the state, so travel and scheduling won’t be heavily affected for the larger division. The smaller division is significantly more spread out, which will likely lead to increased travel in the postseason.

“Especially in the Frontier League, we have made major strides in trying to make sure academics were an important factor,” Ottawa principal Ryan Cobbs said. “When we started talking about travel and having our kids out until 11 at night trying to get back, it became a huge concern for us.”

The split will result in new postseason formats for all sports. Football will no longer require a bi-district round since each division only has 32 teams. Volleyball and basketball will have eight four-team sub-states in each division. Baseball and softball divisions will fluctuate from year to year because the number of cooperative teams isn’t always the same, but each division will have eight regional tournaments with four or five teams apiece.

In addition to new postseason systems, the split will require an additional state tournament for every sport. KSHSAA executive director Gary Musselman said in a statement that the search for additional state sites is ongoing.

Ballots were sent to all 4A schools on April 30. The proposal needed 33 or more votes to pass. For a school’s vote to be valid, the ballot had to include signatures from the principal and superintendent.