The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 11, 2013

6A to split in 2 divisions beginning in 2014

By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Make room Tulsa Union and Jenks. After 17 straight seasons with either the Redskins or Trojans claiming the state Class 6A football crown, coaches, athletic directors and administrators at their fellow 6A schools have voted overwhelmingly to put a new, more equitable system into place that will see two 6A schools crowned state champions starting in 2014.

In voting announced at Wednesday’s Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association board of directors meeting, the makeup of 6A football will undergo a dramatic change after the schools, in a 24-5 vote with one abstention (Tulsa Union), approved a plan that will split 6A into two divisions for football.

The plan was approved over another plan that was supported by Enid that would have maintained four districts with two larger and two smaller schools advancing to two separate playoffs.

The newly approved 6A setup will commence in 2014 and is remarkably similar to a plan that was tabled by the OSSAA board last year that would have created a Division 7A consisting of the largest 16 schools based on average daily membership (ADM). In fact, the only change from the tabled plan appears to be in semantics with the new plan creating a 6A Division 1 consisting of the top 16 ADM schools and a 6A Division 2 comprised of the next 16 largest schools by ADM.

Based on the approved plan, Enid, which currently is 19th in ADM at 1,678.2, will compete in 6A Division 2, at least for the near future. The new plan will have four districts in 6A, with two each in Division 1 and Division 2.

Enid head football coach Steve Chard welcomes the change, recognizing it will give Enid a better chance at a state title.

“Anybody with realistic glasses on knows that if Jenks and Union aren’t the ones you have to beat, you obviously have a better chance (at a title),” Chard said.

However, Chard said he hadn’t spent time prior to the vote “losing sleep over playing Union and Jenks.”

“We’re going play whoever is on our schedule,” he said.

Chard said everyone knew change was coming and the reason behind it, besides the dominance of Union and Jenks, lies in the discrepancy in numbers in 6A compared to all of the classifications.

“The main reason for the change is because there’s no other class where there is this big of a discrepancy in enrollment,” he said. “There is no other class that is not capped at the top.”

Currently, Class 6A ranges from Broken Arrow with an ADM of 4,586.2 at its upper level down to Tulsa Washington with an ADM of 1,287.4, nearly four times fewer students than Broken Arrow. Union ranks second with an ADM of 4,237.1 and Jenks is third at 3,077.5.

Besides Union and Jenks winning the 6A title each of the past 17 seasons, the four eastern schools, which includes Broken Arrow and Owasso (ADM 2,628.0), have had more semifinal appearances over the past five years than all other 6A schools combined.

“Obviously, whether you are pleased with the new plan depends on your perspective from your job,” Chard said.

Yukon superintendent Bill Denton, who chaired OSSAA’s Rules Review Committee, expressed his pleasure with the new plan. “I think it will work,” Denton told the Tulsa World. “I feel pretty excited about the fact that 24 schools felt like it was the best option. I think we can make it work.”

It was a sentiment echoed by OSSAA executive director Ed Sheakley. “We’re pleased with it and how the process played out,” he told The Oklahoman.

The new plan’s districts will be determined when the new ADM numbers come out in August.

In the short term, Division 1 will consist of two eight-team districts, while Division 2 will consist of one eight-team district and one seven-team district as U.S. Grant, currently a 6A school, was granted independence in football through 2017. The Generals will be placed in a district, but won’t actually compete in the district until 2018, creating a bye week scenario in the middle of district play for schools  placed in U.S. Grant’s district.

It’s an issue that potentially troubles Chard.

“You don’t want to take a week off during district play and it means we could potentially have a champion that plays only 12 games, while other classes are playing as many as 15 games,” he said.

The approved plan will shorten the playoff schedule by one week and will have eight teams advancing from each division. The playoffs would begin immediately following the end of the regular season, with the championship being played on Thanksgiving weekend.

But while Enid will benefit in the short term, there is a significant chance EHS could find itself moved up to Division 1 in the new plan in as little as a couple of years. That is one of the reasons Enid Public Schools Superintendent Shawn Hime said he cast his vote for the other rejected plan.

“Plan 2 was similar to the Texas plan, where 5A (Texas’ highest classification) stays together, but splits into separate divisions for the playoffs,” Hime said. “That plan made more sense for us because we are very precariously on the bubble and there is a good chance of moving into Division 1 very soon,” he said.

Hime said Enid’s current high school enrollment is “about 1,800 students,” and Norman, the current No. 16 school (the cut-off point for Division 1) has an ADM of 1,728. “So we are really going to be watching Norman High’s numbers,” Hime said.

Hime also felt Plan 2 would have suited Enid better to maintain its western identity and been easier on travel. “It would have given us a better opportunity to play in the western part of the state,” he said, noting that if Enid does move up to Division 1, it will require playing more eastern Oklahoma schools.

But Hime believes the approved plan still represents a positive change from the current system.

“I think it’s a good plan, a really good plan,” he said. “It will bring more balance and it will be more competitive.”