VIEW cabell GW3

George Washington’s Bunky Brown (middle) battles for a loose ball during a 2019 state tournament game against Cabell Midland.

With all the current chatter concerning the four-class basketball proposal for West Virginia high schools, one question seems to have been lost in the shuffle.

For all the posturing about whether it’s a dig at private schools dominating Class A, or the head-scratching about the convoluted socioeconomic formula used to break the state’s schools into four divisions, there’s something simpler that needs to be addressed:

Do we even need four classes? Or three, for that matter?

After decades of talking with SSAC officials about policies, I can easily recall one of their standard responses when a new proposal or new idea pops up. It goes something along the lines of: “First, we want to see how other state associations are handling it.’’ Or sometimes: “We want to check with neighboring states and see what they’re doing.’’

Well, in this case, I checked with neighboring states and the numbers just don’t add up — to the premise of four classes, that is.

There are five states that geographically ring West Virginia, and all five of them house many more high schools than the Mountain State. No surprise there. But what is revealing is how those states divide their schools into classifications. All five of them already have dozens more schools competing in each class than ours in the sport of basketball.

From high to low, here’s how it goes:

n Kentucky has one class for its 273 boys teams and 272 girls teams, making it one of two states (Delaware is the other) with just one state champion. Or, it has 273/272 teams per class, depending on the gender.

n Ohio has a total of 792 boys teams and 783 girls in just four classes, giving it 198 or 196 per class.

n Pennsylvania has six classes for basketball, but it also has 718 schools competing, for an average of about 120 per class.

n Virginia has 314 public schools divided into six classes, or about 52 per class. And that doesn’t count the dozens of private schools also playing in the state.

n Maryland is the closest to West Virginia in that it has 198 schools, but those are just the public schools. Still, divided into four classes, that’s around 50 per class, and like Virginia, doesn’t include the private schools.

Last season, West Virginia had 124 schools — public and private — playing in its three classes in basketball, an average of just 41 per class. Of course, the numbers weren’t uniform — 29 competed in Class AAA, 44 in AA and 51 in A — but you get the idea. And if that same number of schools is now divided by four instead of three? That makes 31 per class.

In other words, we’re already way under the standard number of teams in each class compared to the states closest to us. Do we want to water down the competition even more?

It almost makes more sense to implement a two-class system. That would be more in line with other states, especially those in our region. But that notion doesn’t stand much of a chance, not with the trophy-for-everybody mindset so prevalent now.

It’s sort of the opposite of the school consolidation trend — there, it’s fewer and better schools can create more academic opportunities for students; for sports, more divisions means more athletic opportunities for student-athletes.


Saw an interesting article online this week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that made me realize how universal some problems/situations are in high school athletics.

Written by Mike White, it touched on the friction existing between public and private schools in Pennsylvania and a recent bill introduced by a state legislator that would force the state to create separate postseason tournaments in eight sports — football, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball and girls volleyball.

To quote a passage from White:

“For a number of years, public schools have complained private/Catholic and also charter schools have a competitive advantage because they have no geographic boundaries from which to draw students. An important fact in the bill, though, is that charter schools will remain in tournaments for public schools. That will not sit well with some coaches and school administrators who have complained about more charter schools popping up and having a big effect on some championships, especially in basketball.’’

Another surprising part of that bill, the Parity Interscholastic Athletics Act (House Bill 1600), would eliminate Pennsylvania’s existing transfer rule, allowing student-athletes to transfer purely for athletic reasons, without the fear of penalty.

Wow. And we thought we had it bad with the four-class thing.

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