It only took 17 years of two-school domination and multiple demands to fix a broken system, but the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) finally was forced to recognize the 800-pound bully in the room and stare it down.
This past week, the OSSAA board of directors, in a surprisingly unanimous vote, agreed to send significant changes in the structure of prep 6A football — where either Tulsa Union or Jenks have won the championship every year since 1996 — to a vote of the 32-member schools that make up the largest (based on average daily membership) classification.
“The playoff structure within Class 6A is definitely going to change,” said OSSAA Executive Secretary Ed Sheakley after Wednesday’s vote.
Of course the OSSAA still couldn’t make it simple. At its Feb. 6 board meeting it approved two plans that were presented by its Constitution and Rules Revision Committee that were drafted in late January by 6A coaches and athletic directors. Once the schools vote on the plans, the board likely will take it up for final approval at its April meeting. Whichever plan gets approved, it will not take effect until 2014.
A two-division plan is supported by Enid head football coach Steve Chard, whose Plainsmen currently are the 19th-largest school in 6A based on ADM, but would become the third-largest in division two in the proposed plan, potentially giving the Plainsmen a more even shake at competing
for a title.
“I would favor a two-division plan,” Chard said. “There is no similar discrepancy in any other class like there is in 6A football. Other classes have a top and bottom, but of course (6A) being the top class, there is no upper limit.”
That has given rise to matchups between schools that have enrollments surpassing 4,000 (i.e. Broken Arrow and Jenks) competing against the likes of Bixby (1,336) and Tulsa Washington (1,287). Enid’s ADM currently is 1,678.
The largest school, Broken Arrow, has an ADM of 4,586. To get an idea of the disparity, one would have to combine Enid, Ponca City (1,478) and Stillwater (1,441) to matchup numbers-wise with Broken Arrow.
Enid has not won a championship since 1983.
“It’s certainly daunting to watch Union roll up with four buses full of players,” Chard said. But he also is quick to point out that while he would like to see the inequities addressed, it doesn’t pre-occupy his preparations or dominate his plans.
“I’m not uptight either way,” Chard said when discussing the possible changes. “I don’t spend any time worrying about it or discussing Union or Jenks with players during workouts. Our job is to prepare better and compete better.”
However, Chard does see some obvious benefit to the much-needed changes.
“I will be glad to have a chance at a championship and it would present a much more equitable system year-in and year-out,” he said.
Breaking down the proposals
Both plans currently on the table would maintain a 32-team Class 6A but split it into two divisions with eight teams advancing to the playoffs and crowning a state champion.
The first plan, as reported last week by the News & Eagle, would split Class 6A into two 16-team divisions with Division 1 comprising the 16 largest schools based on ADM, and Division 2 encompassing the next 16 schools. Each division would have two eight-team districts and the top-four finishers in each district would move on to the playoffs.
The second plan seems overly complicated as it maintains the current 6A districts but would also include two sub-divisions in each district that would consist of four teams from the largest 16 schools and four teams from the smallest 16 schools. Four teams from each district would advance to the playoffs with the large and small divisions sending two each, creating separate 8-team playoff brackets for the larger and smaller schools.
Each plan would create a three-week playoff instead of the current four-week system.
If the first plan sounds similar to the plan OSSAA rejected by an earlier 7-6 vote, it should. The only difference is the voted-down plan would have created a permanent Class 7A of the highest-ADM 16 teams.
So what changed? Well, the coaches likely surprised the board by coming together on a plan, forcing the OSSAA’s hand in the matter.
At its Jan. 22 meeting, the 6A coaches and athletic directors approved the plans by an overwhelming vote of 28-3, with only Jenks, Union and Broken Arrow dissenting. Midwest City was not present at the meeting. Even Owasso, 6A’s fourth-largest school, saw the need for change.
It’s a plan that’s long overdue. Actually, any kind of plan was long overdue. Seventeen years of 6A football championships being the sole providence of Jenks or Union spoke, no screamed, the need for change to the point OSSAA could no longer pretend to not hear the outcry.
Enid too big for Division Two?
But there could be an interesting twist in the 6A plot for Enid.
While the new plan could cast Enid, with its current ADM, as one of the top dogs in the restructured second division of 6A, that could all change in the next few years.
Enrollment in Enid Public Schools is trending significantly upward, particularly in the pre-high school grades.
According to Amber Fitzgerald, Enid Public Schools’ director of human resources and communications, the district has seen growth of over 500 students in the elementary grades over the past three years and more than 1,000 students from pre-K to high school since 2007.
“We are the fastest growing school district among our 6A peers,” said Fitzgerald. That growth is especially seen in the lower grades.
While this year’s high school senior class has 354 students, the ninth-grade consists currently of 482 students. However, the most startling increase is at the first-grade and kindergarten levels where currently there are 720 first-graders and 718 students in kindergarten, indicating that, if the current numbers and trends hold up, Enid’s ADM will see a significant jump in the next several years.
If the ADM for most other schools in 6A remains relatively static, Enid’s numbers likely would push it right up into division one of a potentially restructured 6A. In other words, Enid could find itself right back in a situation of competing against the likes of Union and Jenks for a state title.
While that would certainly seem to deflate some of the excitement many around Enid would have regarding the proposed 6A fixes, it shouldn’t detract from the basic premise and benefit of the new system, which is to provide an equitable basis to determine a champion, which is something everybody should feel good about.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the
News & Eagle. Contact him at