Rick Ryan: New Big 3 in MSAC football?

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Cabell Midland football coach Luke Salmons has taken the Knights to a state championship game and helped keep Midland among the top programs in the MSAC and state.

The balance of power in Mountain State Athletic Conference football used to reside squarely in Kanawha County, with Capital, George Washington and South Charleston leading the way.

However, in recent seasons, that control may have started shifting 50 or so miles west across Interstate 64.

You can make the argument that Cabell Midland, Huntington and Spring Valley are the new Big 3 in the MSAC, especially since Spring Valley made it all the way to the Class AAA championship game last season, beating Capital in the semifinals before falling to Martinsburg in the finals.

Now that’s not to say that the Kanawha County trio has slipped very much — hey, Capital did win the Class AAA championship just three years ago — but let’s check the facts.

In four of the past five years, a member of the Greater Huntington trio (GH3 for short) has captured the MSAC championship — Spring Valley last year, Midland in 2012 and 2015, and Huntington in 2013. The MSAC title is based on SSAC playoff ratings points.

In the five years prior to that (2007-11), the Kanawha County trio (or KC3) swept all five MSAC crowns — three by GW and two by SC. Capital won in 2014, the lone year the GH3 missed since 2012.

All members of the GH3 have participated in the Super Six finals in Wheeling over the last five years (and each has lost in its only appearance). Meanwhile, all three members of the KC3 have made it to Island Stadium multiple times since 2008 — but only two of those appearances came in the last five years, both by Capital in back-to-back seasons (2014-15). SC had the Wheeling feeling in 2008, ’09 and ’14 and GW in 2008 and ’11. Their combined Super Six record in that stretch is 3-4.

When it comes to playoff participation, all six teams have lengthy streaks. In the GH3, Spring Valley’s gone to the postseason nine straight years and Midland and Huntington six apiece. In the KC3, Capital made it five straight seasons, SC four and GW nine of 10 (missing in 2014).

Of course, Capital’s the only Class AAA team in the state to have played in the semifinals the last four years, so your interpretation of which trio is more dominant may depend on which indicators of strength you prefer.

All six are still pretty good, and all could be playoff-bound again this season.

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I didn’t get to say goodbye to Fred Aldridge.

I exchanged emails with Aldridge, the commissioner of the Mountain State Athletic Conference, about three weeks ago, seeking scrimmage pairings for the upcoming MSAC Grid-o-rama. He said he would drop them off following their Board of Control meeting the next morning, which was July 13, and that he did. They were waiting for me in our newspaper office when I came to work that night.

Only I never got to thank him. The next morning, he died at his home at the age of 78. I got word of his passing as I was packing to leave for Myrtle Beach on a family vacation and was able to put together a few paragraphs for the guys in our office to put online.

I wasn’t able to attend his visitation or service, either, as I was already at the beach.

Fred was a great guy for me to deal with the past 20 years. If he didn’t have what I needed when I contacted him, he sure as heck had it by the next day. I’m going to miss dealing with him and his wife, Pat, who was always at his side, helping him distribute league information for the various sports.

I know it had to be tough on Fred through the years, trying to keep principals, athletic directors and coaches in anywhere from 12 to 16 member schools satisfied — when at times they all seemed to have their own agendas — but ultimately, I think he did a great job keeping things together in what’s proven to be the best overall Class AAA league in West Virginia.

Thanks for 20 great years, Fred.

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Ripley, a charter member of the MSAC back in 1993, may be departing the league following fall sports, but the school is remaining on good terms with the Class AAA conference.

In fact, Ripley will be helping the MSAC when it comes to providing an opponent for the league’s place-winner games, starting with the 2018 basketball, baseball and softball seasons.

The MSAC has its member schools hold back one game on their schedules in several sports for league championship play late in the season — title game, third-place game, fifth-place game, etc. But when Ripley leaves the league, membership becomes an odd number with 11 teams, and the MSAC is missing a dance partner.

So the Vikings have agreed to provide the opposition in the 11th-place game for sports such as boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball and softball. When the MSAC has been at an odd number in the past, smaller schools such as Poca and Charleston Catholic have agreed to play in those place-winner games.

“That’s a positive for the conference and a positive for Ripley High School,” said Mike Arbogast, the principal at South Charleston and the president of the MSAC.

“They will exit on good terms and everybody is free to play them in everything. Several of our schools have already scheduled Ripley in different sports.”

Princeton, which left the MSAC without required notice in the spring of 2015, is still serving a four-year moratorium on scheduling league schools.

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

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