In a couple of months, the Cardinal Conference could well have some soul searching to do.
The longtime Class AA league, which has always taken a hard line on excluding teams from other classifications in its membership, might have its basketball schools spread over three different classes when the SSAC realigns its divisions in October.
That possibility exists after the SSAC approved a two-year pilot program to divide its boys and girls basketball programs over four classes beginning in the 2020-21 school year. As part of that plan, classes aren’t defined solely by enrollment figures as in years past, but other factors are also weighed, such as a school’s proximity to the county seat as well as socio-economic values.
A Putnam County group against the move recently crunched some of the SSAC’s existing numbers with the new rating formula, and when they did, Winfield jumped from AA in a three-class setup to the new 4-A division, in part because the school is located in the county seat. If Winfield remains in 4-A for basketball after the SSAC’s reclassification this fall, it means competing with much larger schools such as Cabell Midland, Morgantown, Huntington, Wheeling Park and Martinsburg.
Under those terms, would the Cardinal Conference allow Winfield to remain in the league? After all, the pilot program is just for basketball and, at present, is only approved for two seasons. But there’s more to the equation than just Winfield’s status.
Using the Putnam group’s calculations, six league schools could land in the 3-A division — one under the big boys, as they’ve always been — with those schools being Nitro, Herbert Hoover, Logan, Wayne, Sissonville and Scott. However, three more might wind up in 2-A — Chapmanville Regional, Poca and Mingo Central.
Chapmanville (two) and Poca (one) have combined to capture three of the last five Class AA state championships in boys basketball, so the Cardinal Conference probably doesn’t want to make a hasty move to extinguish some of its natural rivalries, even if for a short period.
So what can be done — if anything — for a quick fix?
“We’ll probably start that discussion on Aug. 12,’’ said Cardinal Conference commissioner Ollie Hunting, pointing to the league’s next scheduled meeting.
Jason Redman, the principal at Nitro, said the league meeting that comes at the end of the football season will likely be the one where some difficult decisions are made.
“That’s when we set the football schedules for the next year,’’ Redman said, “and that’s when we’ll know where everybody is after the basketball reclassifications. We’ve discussed some possibilities, but there’s no hard plans. We’ll just have to look at it and see what the group as a whole thinks. I know I think about things and what’s best for us.
“What matters to us is the bottom line, playing rivals. We’ve been lucky to have some really good gates since we went to double-A [in the 2016-17 school year]. We want to play a schedule that hopefully brings people to my gym and football field. Because at the end of the day, no one gets rich.’’
For Nitro, that means keeping its natural rivalries with schools that might be classified in larger or smaller SSAC divisions — teams like Winfield, Herbert Hoover, Sissonville and Poca. For a school like Chapmanville, that means playing Corridor G neighbors Logan and Scott. The Cardinal Conference might have to juggle its existing format to handle such scheduling requests.
“That’s what really matters to us,’’ Redman said. “We have to play those teams, so we really want to stick with them if anything does change. That’s what makes my bottom line.
“As far as basketball goes, the regular season really doesn’t matter. What matters to us in the regular season are our rivals. We want to play Poca twice and St. Albans twice, for that matter. And Herbert Hoover and Sissonville twice. That’s where we want to be when we see where basketball goes.’’