The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission’s move toward a new classification formula remains alive.
The State Board of Education voted Wednesday to place that proposal in a 30-day public comment period. Only one board member present at Wednesday’s meeting, former Charleston Catholic principal Debra Sullivan, voted against the motion.
Following the public comment phase, the board will take the issue up again at its July meeting.
The proposal calls for a two-year pilot program to reclassify SSAC boys and girls basketball teams using a new formula. School enrollment numbers will count for 70 percent of the formula. Another 20 percent will account for location — 10 percent proximity of a school to its county seat and 10 percent proximity of a school to a city with a population larger than 10,000. The final 10 percent will account for a school’s socioeconomic status.
If approved, the SSAC will use that formula to regroup boys and girls basketball teams from three classes to four. The commission will revisit the change when the pilot program ends.
The idea was born from the thought that, among Class A teams, private schools have been winning an uneven number of state championships. Before Webster County won this past season’s Class A boys basketball title over Parkersburg Catholic, private schools had won 15 of the previous 17 boys titles and private schools played each other in the title game in 11 of those years.
SSAC executive director Bernie Dolan said that while many may think it’s a public school-versus-private school issue, it goes deeper than that.
“There is a realization that certain schools are winning more championships and being more successful not just at the single-A level,” Dolan told the board Wednesday. “Rural schools at the double- and triple-A levels are having the same issues. We’re trying to make sure the classes are as close as possible.”
Herbert Hoover principal Michael Kelley, a member of the SSAC competition committee, enlisted the help of Adam Wolfe, a math and physics teacher at the school. Wolfe designed the formula that the SSAC would use.
Wolfe told the board that, in terms of competitive balance, West Virginia has some room to grow and used another competitive balance formula to explain that. In that formula, groups of teams are given a number between 0 and 1. A 1 means the group is perfectly competitively balanced. A zero means half the teams are undefeated and half are winless.
“In football, West Virginia is a .54,” he said. “That’s a decent score. In boys basketball, it’s a .45 and in girls basketball, it’s a .42.”
To strike a better balance, Dolan said, the formula would consider location and economics, as schools standing closer to larger cities have easier access to facilities, travel teams and other advantages that schools in rural areas likely do not.
Board member Bob Dunleavy said he sat through a previous discussion of the formula and was all for it. Board member James Wilson was not at Wednesday’s meeting, but was at the previous discussion and texted into the meeting Wednesday voicing his full support.
Sullivan had several concerns over the new formula. She saw no malice in it, but felt that assumptions were made in assessing the socioeconomic status of private schools, that the student bodies were more blue-collar than the scores indicated. In looking at boys basketball over the last 20 years, she found that 57 percent of Class A teams, 59 percent of Class AA teams and 62 percent of Class AAA teams qualified for the state tournament, so she couldn’t agree that the current system was broken.
Mainly, she felt the new formula was over-complicating a simple issue.
“The way we maintain competitive balance is to provide a great education,” she said. “And sports is part of it. In looking at the formula you used, it is very complicated. People, the general public, let alone the rest of [the board], aren’t going to understand it. Therefore, it will appear to lack transparency.
“That’s what you’re going to hear a lot about,” she added, “and, dare I say, you’re going to have injunctions.”
Kelley said he understands there will be debate over where some schools are classified. That’s why this move would be made gradually and why the commission remains open to suggestions.
“Speaking as a part of the competition committee, I can vouch for the fact that the sole intent was to improve competitive balance,” he said. “That’s why it’s a pilot. That’s why it’s one sport. If it doesn’t work, we’ll have to find something else.”