Changes are in store for several Kanawha Valley boys basketball programs starting with the 2020-21 season, now that the SSAC has adopted a two-year pilot program that divides its member schools into four classes of competition instead of three.
The coaches most likely affected by the changes — those at Winfield, Charleston Catholic and Buffalo — say they’ll try to maintain their current approach as much as they can.
For many Kanawha Valley teams, not much will change. Capital, George Washington, Hurricane, Riverside, South Charleston and St. Albans should all still compete in the largest class, which will become 4-A for the 2020-21 season. Figures won’t be finalized until the SSAC performs its normal four-year reclassification process in October.
Nitro, Herbert Hoover and Sissonville are still in the next class down, which will be 3-A. But the changes really take effect for the area’s other high schools.
Winfield is expected to jump from AA all the way to 4-A because of the new calculations used to determine the classifications. Instead of going by mere enrollment figures, classes will be determined by a mathematical formula — 70 percent of it from enrollment, 20 percent by proximity to the county seat and 10 percent by various socio-economic factors. Winfield is the county seat in Putnam County.
Generals coach Chris Stephens, who begins his third season in the coming 2019-20 school year, seems more accepting of his team’s impending jump than adversarial.
“Whether it’s double-A, triple-A or 4-A,’’ he said, “when they make them, you’ve got to go with what they say.
“If you think back to four years ago, when we were triple-A, we were playing against most of the teams that are now going to be in that 4-A class — well, for eight years, anyway. Yeah, it’s a little bit more rough when you look at it, but if you want to be the best in the area or the best in the state, I’d rather play at the highest classification, anyway.’’
Winfield, which has long been on the borderline for AA or AAA status in SSAC sports, competed in triple-A for eight years before dropping back to AA for the 2016-17 school year.
Stephens said his schedule for 2019-20 is already finalized, so it can’t be “toughened up’’ to get ready for possible 4-A status. However, he thinks the Generals already face a challenging schedule.
“Since I took over,’’ he said, “we’ve had a tough schedule. This coming year, we added [George Washington] once and Capital twice. We still play Robert C. Byrd, we still have Hurricane. We already like to test ourselves against the best teams, especially if you can get local people to play. We’re always going to test ourselves.’’
Buffalo, a longtime Class A school, appears a possibility to go to double-A, depending on the upcoming SSAC reclassification and how many schools are arranged in each class. Currently, there are 29 competing in AAA, 44 in AA and 51 in A, but those dividing lines could be moved during October’s calculations.
A Putnam County group against the move to four classes did some tinkering with the present SSAC enrollment figures and the new formula, and had the future 2-A field housing such strong programs as Chapmanville, Wheeling Central and Poca.
“It’ll definitely be a challenge,’’ said Buffalo coach Adam Scott. “The schools at that level generally have much larger selections of student-athletes. Just because we’re moving up a class doesn’t mean we’re getting a whole new number of student-athletes. From that aspect, things are going to change, but we’re going to be the same-caliber club with the same-caliber athletes — just a different classification.’’
Scott said his 2019-20 schedule was completed shortly after last season ended, so he can’t tack on games against larger programs the Bison might be playing more in coming years. Like Winfield, he doesn’t think it’s necessary.
“We already have double-A schools on our schedule like Poca, Lincoln County and Point Pleasant,’’ he said, “as well as some private schools who were outside double-A play before. Now they’re going to be moving up there with us. So there’s not a lot of changes on our schedule.’’
Schools moving up who have their schedules set for 2019-20 can also take on larger programs during the three-week summer practice period, or in preseason scrimmages, but Scott thinks Buffalo has that base covered, too. Last winter, the Bison scrimmaged AAA St. Albans and AA Roane County. The year before, it was St. Albans and AA Hoover.
“That caliber of team has really been on our scrimmage regimen for a while now,’’ Scott said.
Charleston Catholic, like many private schools around the state, appears to be joining the ranks of AA basketball schools in the near future after a long and successful run in Class A. First-year coach Hunter Moles, who played basketball at South Charleston and WVU Tech, said he doesn’t really have an issue with the revisions.
“I understand why it’s happening,’’ he said, “and I’m OK with change. I’m not for sure how it will play out. We’ll have to wait and see, and I’m looking forward to see how it does play out.
“Our team will play anyone, so it’s not a concern. But we’re definitely looking forward to after the two years is up to see if it stays approved. That’s what I’m interested to see. How will everyone decide if it’s successful or not? That’s the biggest thing. I don’t know how we’ll determine that.’’
Moles noted that the existing schedule for the Irish is plenty tough. Last season, Catholic met AAA Capital, three AA schools and played 10 regular-season games against state-ranked teams.
“Basically,’’ he said, “we were going to play anyone this year even if that proposal didn’t happen or get approved. We want to play as many [tough teams] as possible to help us for the postseason, schools we’re not used to playing. But at the end of the day, it’s just basketball and you have to compete whoever you’re going against.’’
Poca, meanwhile, could remain as a double-A school, but four of its closest AA neighbors and Cardinal Conference foes — Winfield, Nitro, Hoover and Sissonville — could reclassify to 3-A, which may wreak havoc on the Dots’ future schedules.
When it takes effect, the four-class system for boys basketball will interrupt a 62-year-long tradition in the state. West Virginia began crowning three state champions in basketball in 1959.